Happy Autumn! The switch from summer to fall is a welcome change for most people. Cool mornings and warm afternoons. Crisp nighttime air. Falling leaves and pumpkin flavored everything. It’s glorious!
But while the rest of us are reveling in the fact that it’s finally hoodie season, seniors are facing several unique challenges to their health and wellness. Fall is not only the unofficial start of flu season, but the colder weather offers many hazards of its own.
By following the below tips, older adults and their caregivers can begin to craft a safety plan for the autumn season. After all, being proactive is one of the best ways to avoid unnecessary illness or injury!
Ward off seasonal illness. The flu can not only worsen existing conditions, but seniors are at greater risk for flu-related illnesses such as pneumonia, bronchitis and ear infections.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that adults aged 65 and older get a flu vaccine each year, ideally by the end of October. In addition, they also suggest washing hands with warm water and soap several times a day, for at least 20 seconds at a time.
Prepare your cold-weather wardrobe. According to the National Institutes of Health, older adults are especially vulnerable to hypothermia because their body’s response to cold can be diminished by underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, certain medications, and aging itself. Hypothermia can occur at temperatures as high as 50 degrees Fahrenheit (or higher if the weather is wet and windy). To help stay warm, older adults should dress in layered, loose clothing and wear a hat when going outside.
Schedule pre-winter heating maintenance. Experts recommend that older adults keep their indoor temperature at a minimum of 68 degrees Fahrenheit during the fall and winter months. Before it gets super cold outside, call in a maintenance person (or knowledgeable loved one!) to make sure your heating system is in good working order. If your home includes a fireplace, make sure to also have the chimney and flu inspected and cleaned to limit the risk of an (unintentional) fire.
Get ready for ice and snow. In many states (including New Jersey), it’s not unusual to get snowy, icy winter weather during the autumn months – and slippery stairs and walkways can spell certain disaster. Make sure you have shovels, salt or ice melt, and car brushes on hand in the event of any early winter weather. If you’re unable to safely handle snow removal tasks on your own, now is the time to arrange for a neighbor or friend to be on call.
Be aware of slip/fall hazards. Autumn comes with shorter days and colder weather: A lethal combo. Not only is it dark out early, potentially limiting visibility – but cold weather can make muscles and joints stiff and difficult to move. Pair those conditions with slippery, wet leaves, and you have a serious fall risk. Be sure to remove fallen leaves from porches, walkways, and sidewalks regularly to help avoid any slipping hazards. In addition, make sure key areas are illuminated at night if you go out during the evening hours.
Protect your skin. The cooler, windy air of autumn, along with the dry indoor air caused by heating systems, can seriously damage elderly skin. Seniors already have dryer, thinner skin by nature and it’s far more fragile than younger adults’. To avoid aggravating conditions such as eczema or seborrheic dermatitis, make sure to moisturize regularly, drink plenty of fluids, and keep skin protected from the elements (don’t forget, you need sunscreen, no matter how cold it is outside!)
No matter the situation, creating a strategy and being prepared are integral parts of elder care. If you are a senior yourself, or you care for someone who is, being ready for the changing seasons is key to avoiding unnecessary sickness or injury. If you are unable to care for yourself or afford the bare necessities (heat, electricity) to get you through the colder months, there are agencies that can help.
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