Although the statistics for elder abuse are staggering year round, the long, cold winter months pose additional risks
to seniors. Among the many types of elder abuse and neglect, failing to provide seniors with their increased needs during the winter is a concern.
The winter months can take their toll on everyone, but elders face additional challenges during frigid winters.
Caregivers report falls and hypothermia to be their biggest concerns when caring for the senior population during the winter months, but there are additional risks as well, and sometimes they are due to neglect.
What Winter Risks Do Seniors Face?
50% of Americans who reportedly die from hypothermia are at least 65 years old. When bodies have less fat, a slower metabolism, and reduced circulation, they become prone to hypothermia, sometimes even while indoors. Thermostats in residential care facilities should always be set above 65 degrees for seniors. Caregivers must ensure that their elderly patients are warmly dressed at all times, especially while sleeping.
Without the heat and sun, seniors oftentimes forget to drink and consume less fluid during the winter months. Residential care facility residents should follow a regular hydration schedule to prevent risk of dehydration.
The elderly already face daily fall hazards, but when sidewalks and walkways become slick with ice and snow, the hazard increases exponentially. Caregivers must ensure that walkways, sidewalks, and curbs are free of ice at all times during the winter. In addition, it is recommended that seniors wear shoes or boots with gripping rubber soles and that walking assistance devices have the appropriate amount of tread.
Ensuring that an elderly person has enough heat is important, but heaters can also become health hazards. Gas powered heaters should be avoided and if they are used, carbon monoxide detectors should also be installed, as a precaution. Electric heaters must have cords in great condition without any fraying. Heaters should be kept out of walkways and away from flammable materials.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
SAD is a type of depression that cycles with the seasons. The winter months are especially gloomy for the elderly and seniors frequently develop SAD. As the weather becomes colder and the daylight hours become fewer, many seniors begin to experience a loss of energy and increase lethargy. According to the Pennsylvania Administration on Aging, 6.8% of seniors over the age of 65 report experiencing frequent mental distress and the cold, winter months account for the presence of additional stressers. Installing light boxes, sprucing up interiors and encouraging seniors to remain active are great ways to combat SAD. Caregivers are encouraged to routinely monitor residents for signs of depression, and specifically, SAD, during the winter months.
Vitamin D Deficiency
A nutrient that is essential to bone health, cancer prevention, and diabetes prevention, the best source of Vitamin D is from the sun. Elderly people are already at risk for Vitamin D deficiency and the winter months with sparse sun increase these risks. Ensuring that seniors eat foods that are Vitamin D rich, such as salmon and eggs, is important to their continued health.
What To Do If Needs Are Not Addressed
If residents or family members feel that seniors’ needs are not being addressed during the winter months, take action. In many cases, filing a complaint with the facility or caregiver may resolve the issue. In the worst case scenarios, if the senior has experienced trauma as the result of neglect, consider seeking legal guidance. A knowledgeable elder abuse lawyer can advise as to how to file a lawsuit according to the state laws.