5 winter safety tips for seniors and caregivers
5 winter safety tips for seniors and caregivers

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!

Missing Nana or Grandpa? How to answer kids’ questions about the Coronavirus
Missing Nana or Grandpa? How to answer kids’ questions about the Coronavirus

The COVID-19 outbreak can be scary and overwhelming for anybody, but this is especially true for children. 

Kids, particularly those on the younger side, may find it difficult to understand why they can’t leave the house, or why they’re not allowed to go see Nana and Pop anymore. This can cause feelings of confusion, sadness and even anger.

It can be challenging to find the right balance between scaring children with Coronavirus facts, and helping them to understand the situation at hand. But by using the tips below, you will be able to answer questions have about COVID-19 with tact, and alleviate some of their fears.

Acknowledge their questions

First and foremost, it’s important that children feel heard and that their questions aren’t silly. Be sure to listen intently, and avoid interrupting until they have finished speaking.  

Then, you can tell them that their worries are normal and that you’re here to help them through it.

You can also ask them what they already know about the situation and how they are feeling about it, so you can address any concerns or misconceptions they might have.  

Remain calm 

Children often pick up on our behaviour more than we realise, and this influences their own moods and emotions. When they see a parent or other adult worrying, they may see this as their cue to worry too.

So, be sure to address your own concerns and anxieties about the situation before you sit down to talk to a child. Model calmness during your conversation and they will likely follow your lead. 

Learn the facts

There is such an overload of information out there about COVID-19 that it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction. 

It’s important to familiarise yourself with current information about the Coronavirus from reputable sources such as the World Health Organisation or Australian Government’s health alert.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to alarm your child with information like the most recent death toll. But it will arm you with the confidence that you know what you’re talking about.

Be honest

Although it may be tempting to say whatever will put their little mind at ease, white lies or unnecessary sugar coating can do more harm than good. 

With children having such easy access to the information these days, it can break trust or leave them feeling more confused if they hear contrasting information from another source.

Try to avoid saying things like “it’s no big deal” or promising that nobody they know will contract the virus, as unfortunately that’s out of your control.

Instead, be honest with them about the situation, but keep the focus on things that are within control. 

For example, you could say something like “yes, there is a higher risk if the elderly catching the virus, but Nan and Pop are doing all the right things to stay safe.” 

Give age-appropriate answers

It’s also important to tailor your language, based on the age of the child. 

For younger children (for example, under 10) you might explain that COVID-19 is a disease caused by a new germ or bug, and that germs are organisations that are so tiny that we can’t see them, but they can make us sick if they get into our bodies. 

For older children or teenagers, you may choose to delve a little deeper into the science — especially if they’ve shown an interest in it. Understanding the ‘why’ can help unveil some of the mystery around it and make it feel that little less scary. 

Not quite sure how to put it all into words? Red Cross has some great examples of phrases you can use when talking to young people about COVID-19 that you can use as a starting point.

Focus on the positives

It may feel as though silver linings are few and far in between at the moment. However, there are some positives you can focus on to remind children that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

For example, it can be helpful to remind children that there have been many pandemics throughout history and that the experts know exactly what to do — it will just take some time. 

You could also focus on the fact that China has already been through what we are experiencing, and are beginning to come out the other side. 

If all else fails, remind them that the world will keep spinning, the sun will come up tomorrow, and that you have each other!

Help them find solutions 

In such tumultuous times, it’s important to help kids regain a sense of control. Rather than focusing on the uncertainty of the situation, focus on what they can do to keep themselves and the community safe. 

Teach them proper hand-washing technique and remind them to stay away from others if they do leave the home.

You can also help them play a proactive role in communicating with loved ones like grandparents.  

For example, you could encourage them to schedule a weekly phone or video chat at the same time each week.  Staying in regular contact with Grandma and Grandpa will also help reassure them that they are okay. 

By following these simple tips, you can help your kids or grandkids navigate this uncharted territory and take a weight off their little shoulders. 

The benefits of volunteering in aged care
The benefits of volunteering in aged care

They say that in life, you only get what you give — and this is certainly the case when it comes to volunteering in aged care. 

There’s no doubt that by generously donating their time and skills, our volunteers make our residents lives a little brighter.  But what many volunteers don’t anticipate is just how much the experience will enrich their own lives, too. In fact, volunteering is often just as beneficial to our volunteers as it is our residents!

From your health and happiness to your career and social life, becoming an aged care volunteer can positively impact nearly every aspect of your life. Here are some of the top benefits of volunteering.

Give back to the community

Becoming an aged care volunteer is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. Just by spending time with our residents, you can help fill their lives with joy and positivity. However, the benefits of helping others go both ways. Volunteering can help give your life a strong sense of purpose and meaning that other forms of work may not.

This is particularly helpful for volunteers who are retired from the workplace, and find themselves with more time on their hands. It can give them an excellent reason to leap out of bed in the morning, eager to make a difference in our resident’s lives.

Volunteering is also great for young people. Connecting with someone from another generation gives you a whole new perspective about life and an appreciation for those who have come before you.

Broaden your perspective

It’s easy to get wrapped in the day-to-day hustle and bustles and all the issues that come with modern life. Volunteering is the perfect opportunity to break up your daily routine and expand your horizons. 

Coming from all different walks of life, our residents have lived through diverse experiences and many different stages of history. In working with them, you’ll often get to hear their extraordinary stories. Some of them have experienced great challenges and adversity throughout their lifetimes, too. 

It’s a great way to get a reality check, and remind yourself that there’s more to life than emails and social media.

Make new friends

Volunteering in aged care allows you to strike up friendships with people who you may not otherwise ever get the opportunity to meet. Firstly, you will get to know our lovely residents, who have plenty of love and wisdom to share.

You’ll also to get to know the other volunteers. This is an excellent way to broaden your social circle, which can be difficult to do as an adult. If you are recently retired or an empty nester, this is a great way to quell some of the feelings of loneliness that can come with this big transition.

Improve your health

There are multiple studies that show volunteering can alleviate stress and boost your mood. There’s a couple of different reasons why this is the case. Firstly, research shows that oxytocin (a neurotransmitter that regulates social interaction) spikes in some people who regularly volunteer, helping them to better manage stress. Scientists also believe that volunteering can also take the focus off your worries for a while, which reduces feelings of stress. 

You don’t have to give up all of your time to reap the benefits, either. In a report from Volunteering Australia, 95% of participants said that volunteering improved their personal wellbeing — and that even just a few hours made a difference to their happiness and mood.

The benefits of volunteering go beyond just your mental health. In another survey, volunteers reported a range of health benefits after participating in a casual volunteer role over 12 months. The volunteers experienced an 11% increase in social wellbeing, a 9% increase in physical health, a 7% increase in life satisfaction and a 4% decrease in depression.

Learn new skills

There are many valuable skills gained from volunteering with people living with dementia that can be applied to your work, family life and other relationships. One of these is communication. As there can be some barriers in conversing, our volunteers often to find creative ways to communicate with residents. Other important skills you’ll gain or further develop from volunteering include patience, problem-solving, working well in a group, organisation and empathy.

Boost your resume

While we don’t recommend volunteering in aged care simply because it looks good on a resume, it’s certainly an added bonus. Due to the many skills that are gained from volunteer work, it’s often looked upon favourably by prospective employers. Research from SEEK shows that 92% of employers say that relevant volunteer experience gives candidates an advantage in job interviews. This may be partly because it shows you have strong core values that can be difficult to convey in a job interview setting, such as selflessness and a willingness to roll up your sleeves and help. 

Volunteering in aged care can also be helpful for bridging the gap if you are returning to workforce after an extended break. It can help refresh your skills and get you ready to attend job interviews again.

Whether you’re a good listener, are great at arts and crafts or a talented guitar player, your unique skills and personality could make an immense difference in the lives of our residents. In doing so, you’ll reap the benefits, too. To learn more about how you can get involved, head to our volunteering page.