After a challenging few months, we’re hopefully seeing an end to the COVID-19 outbreak in Australia. However, this doesn’t mean it’s time to stop being extra vigilant about our health. With winter upon us, it’s more important than ever to take care of ourselves and the people around us.
This is especially true of older Australians. Not only do seniors have reduced immune defenses against winter colds and flus, but there are other potential health risks caused by cold temperatures and slippery surfaces after rain.
The good news is, there are a few simple precautions you can take to keep yourself or your loved ones safe and healthy this winter. Check out these 5 winter safety tips for seniors and caregivers.
1. Rug up
It’s time to pull those winter woolies out of storage! As we age, the metabolic processes that regulate body temperature slow down. This means seniors have a much higher risk of getting hypothermia, even when the temperatures outside don’t feel freezing.
For this reason, it’s extremely important that older people layer up with warm clothes in winter. This means jumpers, scarves, beanies and possibly even warm base layers like long-johns depending on your local climate. For seniors with a reduced range of movement, you may want to consider velcro or snap button outer layers that are easy to take on or off as necessary.
Rugging up is just as important indoors as it is when spending time outside. In fact, a study in Victoria found that 87% of hospitalised elderly hypothermia cases were indoors when their symptoms arose.
If you are a caregiver, ensure the person in your care has plenty of warm blankets and a properly working indoors heating system. Generally, a mounted air conditioning system is safer than a space heater or fireplace, which can increase the risk of house fires and burns.
2. Injury-proof your surroundings
The risk of winter injuries is heightened in elderly people, who often have reduced balance and weaker bone and muscle strength. Falls can occur even when indoors, due to the reduced sensation in the legs and feet from the cold weather.
If you or your loved one is spending time outdoors (even if it’s just to go the garden or mailbox), sturdy shoes with a strong grip are essential. This is particularly important for those who live in areas with snow or heavy rain in winter, as this can create slippery surfaces.
Inside the home, handrails (particularly in the bathroom or at the entryway to the home), clear pathways and strong lighting can help reduce the risk of a dangerous tumble.
3. Limit time spent outside
Now that self-isolation restrictions around COVID-19 have been loosened, it’s only natural that many seniors are eager to spend time outdoors in the cool, crisp air.
However, it’s still important that older people limit unnecessary outings — and only venture out if given the go-ahead from their doctor.
While the incidence of new COVID-19 cases is currently low, the fact is they do still exist, and older people are at higher risk of fatalities from the virus. So, be smart and selective about your outings, and continue to stay away from large groups of people.
For example, while having tea with a friend might be okay, a grocery shopping outing may be better replaced with an online delivery service.
Limiting unnecessary time spent outdoors in the colder months can also reduce the risk of falls, as well as other health conditions like winter colds or chest infections.
4. Take care against the flu
With so much talk around COVID-19, it’s easy to forget about the plethora of other winter colds and flus that go around at this time of year. While these are nowhere near as deadly as Coronavirus, they can still take a heavy toll on the health of the elderly.
If you haven’t already, consider getting your 2020 influenza shot and encouraging your loved ones to do so also. This will not only reduce the risk of getting the flu but can also reduce the severity and length of the symptoms.
Also be sure to continue washing your hands thoroughly and keeping clear of other people who are ill.
If you do find you’re exhibiting symptoms of the flu, be sure to get tested to rule out COVID-19. After all, it’s always better to be safe than sorry!
5. Look after the body
It’s always important to treat your body well, but this is especially true in the colder months. The good news is, there are a few winter health tips for seniors that make it easy to do so.
Firstly, make sure you’re eating a diet filled with plenty of immune-boosting foods. Older people often have lower levels of vitamin C, which is essential for fighting infection.
The best food sources of this powerhouse vitamin include citrus fruits like oranges, mandarins, grapefruit and lemon. Garlic is also an illness-fighting superstar, thanks to its sulphur-containing compounds. Consider adding it to your meals for an extra immunity boost.
It’s also important to ensure you’re getting plenty of rest. By getting at least eight hours of quality sleep, you can help strengthen your body’s ability to fight off winter colds and flus. This can also help reduce the risk of falls or injuries, by keeping the brain sharp and awake!
This tip goes not only for elderly people, but for caregivers too — who can often find themselves exhausted or burnt out. By ensuring you’re taking good care of yourself, you can reduce your own risk of getting sick and potentially passing it on to the person you’re caring for.
Finally, seniors should make sure they’re drinking plenty of fluids. While it may sound surprising, seniors can actually have an increased risk of dehydration in winter. This is because the colder temperatures can reduce natural urges to drink water throughout the day, because it doesn’t feel hot.
To help keep the body of hydrated, make sure you or your older loved one is sipping plenty of water throughout the day. Also keep in mind that caffeinated beverages like coffee or black tea are diuretics, so they can make the body more dehydrated and don’t count towards liquid intake.
By following these 5 simple tips, you can help make sure you or your older loved one has a lovely and safe winter!