Winter safety tips for seniors

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!

Nutrition Tips

Nutrition Tips for Seniors

After the age of 50, we gradually begin to lose muscle mass – a process known as sarcopenia. Since muscle makes up to 60% of body mass, it’s easy to see how this process can contribute to a number of health issues, like fatigue and loss of strength and stamina which in turn can impair balance and increase the  risk of falls. Two of the main causes of sarcopenia include nutritional deficiencies and a decline in activity.

People tend to move less as they age, which means their muscle mass naturally begins to decrease and they burn fewer calories. This often contributes to a reduced appetite, which in turn can lead to lower energy and less exercise.

Appetite is also influenced by hormonal changes. People in the 75+ age group, in particular, are less likely to respond to hormones like cholecystokinin and ghrelin which are appetite regulators.

Unfortunately, changes in appetite can lead to nutrient deficiencies. And a nutrient-rich diet is one of the best ways to stay healthy as you grow older. If you’re aged 65+, or you’re caring for someone in this age bracket, you may have noticed a change in appetite. This can make it challenging to get all the nutrients needed each day. Luckily, we have a few senior nutrition tips that can help:

Focus on protein

After we hit 30, we lose between 3 and 8% of our muscle mass each decade. This loss contributes to decreased muscle strength, which increases the risk of balance problems and falls. This is why it’s crucial to make sure you’re getting enough protein in your diet. One study found that elderly people who ate the least amount of protein daily lost 40% more muscle compared to the people who ate the most.

A diet rich in protein, combined with resistance exercise is one of the most effective ways to fight sarcopenia. New research has suggested that seniors should eat approximately 1g of protein per kg. So for someone weighing 70kg, a range of 60-70 grams of protein per day is ideal.

Consider nutrition density

One of the biggest challenges of elderly nutrition? Getting all the nutrients needed in the same or fewer calories.

Since there is less room for ‘wasted’ calories, consider foods that give the biggest bang for your nutrient buck. These include foods that are high in vitamin D and calcium for bone health, like milk and dairy products, canned fish, dark green vegetables, and fortified cereals.

B12 is also important, and you’ll find this in seafood, lean meat, and some cereals.

Many seniors are at risk of high blood pressure, and increased potassium and reduced sodium can help. Potassium can be found in beans, vegetables, and fruits, while you can increase flavour in your foods with spices and herbs (and skip the salt).

Stock up on fats

Trans fats and saturated fats can increase blood pressure, cholesterol, and your risk or heart disease. However healthy fats from nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, fatty fish, and avocado are super important. That’s because your body can’t create these essential fatty acids and your cells and organs need them to function efficiently.

Eat plenty of fibre

Constipation is common for seniors, often due to a lower fluid intake, decreased appetite, and less activity. You can stay regular by incorporating plenty of fibre in your diet. You’ll find fibre in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and beans. Fibre also helps prevent diabetes and it’s great for your heart.

How to prepare nutrient-rich meals

It’s easier than you might think to follow the above tips and create healthy, nutritious meals. Here are some great options:

Smoothies

Smoothies are an excellent breakfast option but you can also make them any time of the day. Simply throw some of the below foods in a blender and you’ll have a healthy meal that’s easy to eat even when you don’t feel hungry:

  • Banana
  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Frozen fruit (berries, mango, and other fruit can be found in the frozen section of the supermarket)
  • Nut butter
  • Green vegetables like spinach (you won’t taste them)
  • Flax meal
  • Coconut water

Smoothies are great nutritional drinks for elderly people since you can play with many different ingredients until you find a few combinations you love. You can also pre-assemble the ingredients you need and keep them in the freezer so all you need to do is blend them together.

Sandwiches

Sandwiches can be eaten for lunch or dinner, and they’re easy to throw together. Grab some chicken or turkey from the deli and add lettuce, avocado, tomato, cheese, and wholegrain bread for an easy, nutritious meal.

Soups

Soups are particularly great in winter, and you can make a large batch and freeze individual portions to eat later. These can often be made in a slow cooker so they’re cooking while you get on with your day.

Soups are also a good option for seniors who have difficulty swallowing and chewing. Use a low-sodium stock and incorporate plenty of fresh herbs and spices to add a flavour kick.

Nutrition for older adults is critical for an excellent quality of life. By following the above tips, you’ll boost your immune system, reduce your risk of heart disease, and fight sarcopenia.

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