Keep Your Elder Safe During the Winter Months
By Kathy Green
Winter is a difficult season for elders, their families and their caregivers in regions that experience cold temperatures and snow.
Right away we think of ice, falls and hypothermia. The solutions to these problems are fairly straight--forward; appropriate clothing, layering of clothing, support when walking, salting icy patches and so on.
But the concerns extend beyond that. There are more hazards presented by frigid weather than you may have thought of.
As the weather gradually gets colder and the days shorter, a form of depression can affect our seniors. You will notice changes in them such as a loss of energy, an increased appetite and feelings of lethargy and tiredness. This winter SADness is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder and is brought on by the changing seasons, but it typically affects people in the fall and winter, especially women.
Recognizing this type of depression in your elder is important as it can be treated effectively. One treatment is antidepressant medications which are best started before the symptoms appear each year.
Another form of treatment designed to lessen the symptoms of SAD is light therapy.
Light therapy uses a piece of equipment called a ‘light box'—which resembles a fluorescent lamp that gives off light similar to natural sunlight and will not damage the eyes or skin.
A more natural alternative to light therapy is daily exposure to sunlight. If time and weather conditions permit, it would be helpful for a person with SAD to go outside for a few minutes during daylight hours.
Another negative effect of the weaker sun and shorter periods of sunlight that are part of the winter months is that elders have a difficult time getting enough sun exposure to produce vitamin D. Vitamin D is a vital nutrient that has been linked to bone health, cancer prevention, incontinence prevention, and diabetes prevention. A person can also obtain vitamin D by eating certain foods such as salmon, beef, and egg yolks, and by taking dietary supplements.
Lacking vitamin D is bad for a person's health at any age, but can be particularly dangerous for the elderly. Older people who don't get enough vitamin D have an increased risk for developing osteoporosis.
Fighting vitamin D deficiency in the elderly can be a little complicated as advising them to get more sun makes them prone to more skin cancer. Making sure a senior is eating foods fortified with vitamin D is the safest way to help reduce or prevent a deficit. Certain varieties of milk, yogurt and juice all contain extra doses of the vitamin. Always consult a doctor when considering supplements for your elder.
The winter months with their colder temperatures, snow and ice can be beautiful to the eye and exciting for skiers and snowboarders--but can be a very dangerous time for your senior. Be aware and vigilant of the hazards listed above and proactive about protecting our older family members.