I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but, like it or not, winter is a certainty. You may be tempted to curl up under a warm blanket, sip a steaming cup of hot chocolate, and hibernate with Netflix movies for the next few months, but that’s not completely realistic. You still have an important job to do with providing care for an aging loved one and this requires you both to be outside. To make things a little easier for both of you, here are some tips to help you warm up to the cold:
Keep sidewalks clean and clear of ice and snow
No matter how old you are, you can still fall on slippery walks and unsteady seniors are most at risk. Begin by shoveling away accumulated snow (if you don’t have a snow blower, remember to lift heavy snow with your legs first to avoid back strain and take regular breaks to rest), then sprinkle salt or sand on whatever ice remains. In a pinch, you can even use cat litter to provide a better grip. If you haven’t done so already, repair any sidewalk cracks and install some better lighting or motion sensors to better guide the way. If a senior uses a cane, attach an ice grip to the foot of the cane.
One of your best defenses against winter’s icy blasts is clothing layers. Loose-fitting layers can provide additional warmth and can be easily removed, if need be, if the wearer becomes uncomfortably warm. Pull the hat, scarf, long underwear, and parka out from storage. Button-up sweaters are better than pullovers for seniors to put on. A parka should have some extra room underneath to allow for layers underneath and continued movement as well as an easy-pull zipper (I remember buying my father a new winter coat which had a double zipper … regrettably, these zippers were often difficult to fumble with in the cold and were eventually replaced by a single – and much more user-friendly – zipper instead). Wear a small pair of gloves underneath mittens. Forego fashion now as it will be important to cover all your extremities as exposed skin can freeze quickly when the temperature drops. Pack along an extra blanket for use in the car or to place on the lap of a senior in a wheelchair. You could even pull out extra blankets from storage and place them in easily-reachable spots around a senior’s home.
Look for good-quality, well-fitting boots which can be easily slipped on and off without the worry of tying laces. Laces can be problematic as they may loosen up, become untied without notice, and may be a tripping hazard. Removable insoles are handy as these can be pulled out and left to dry. Boots should also have non-slip treads. And, similar to canes, boots can be outfitted with ice grips as well … the most common type are rubberized and will stretch to fit over the sole of the boot.
Keep a soft cloth in your pocket
Does your senior wear glasses? I do and there is nothing more annoying than having the lenses fog up and leaving me blinded whenever I enter a warm building. With a soft cloth within easy reach, you can quickly wipe a senior’s glasses clean (and not scratch the lenses).
Keep cell phones completely charged
In very inclement weather, landline phone service may be lost. In this case, you and your loved one can still reach each other to communicate.
As a caregiver, you should also ensure that your own vehicle is ready for the winter. Ask your mechanic to thoroughly check your vehicle(s) for required maintenance and install winter tires. How is your vehicle’s battery and block heater? When driving in the winter, always keep your gas tank topped up and allow for some extra travelling time – you may have to reduce your speed due to slippery roads or detour due to an accident. Caregivers should also take extra time and care with helping a senior into a waiting vehicle as footing may be slippery (carrying a small bag of cat litter in your car can be helpful for such times).
Winter brings both health and safety risks. With some precautions, both you and your loved one will survive the upcoming cold season.