Staying Healthy During the Winter Months
Chilly mornings, crunchy snow underfoot and blindingly blue skies are common occurrences in the upper Midwest. Although we might joke about the cold weather, successfully surviving the winter months does take some extra care.
Anyone can fall on the ice, catch a cold or come down with the flu, but older adults may suffer greater consequences from these typical winter hazards. “Sometimes the best prevention for seasonal problems is simple common sense,” noted Fargo Elim Rehab and Care Center director of nursing Kirsten Reile. “Taking time to plan and prepare for winter and being more cautious can eliminate many of the problems experienced by our elders.”
Dodging the “Bugs”
Winter often seems like the season for nasty colds and influenza. But many elders successfully navigate the season with little more than an occasional sniffle. What’s their secret? Reile offered some tips to staying healthy which are especially important during the winter months:
- Eat properly, especially the fruits and vegetables. “The vitamins and minerals found in many of the fruits and vegetables help your immune system fight the ‘bugs’ that are so common,” she said.
- Take time to rest. Don’t let all the winter activities and family events keep you from getting the sleep your body needs.
- Wash your hands frequently. “It’s something we have told our kids for generations, but it’s also true for adults. If we wash our hands after sneezing or after we come home from shopping or before we eat, we remove many of the germs that cause problems,” she said. There are many handy alcohol-based cleansers that are easy to tuck into a purse or car, which can also provide on-the-go cleaning.
- Get a flu shot. They’re available from public health as well as other clinics and can help keep you healthy. The flu is highly contagious, so if you do get the flu, stay home. Bed rest, a mild pain reliever and lots of fluids are the best treatment.
- Don’t forget about exercise! Even in the winter, it’s important to get the exercise your body needs. Many people join a health club, but there are many other alternatives. Schools have walking tracks you can use, the malls are a great place to walk and window-shop with friends and there are a host of in-home exercise options you can try as well.
- Drink lots of liquids to keep properly hydrated. Remember drinks with caffeine and alcohol actually dehydrate, so be sure to get lots of water, milk and juice.
Sometimes our elders-and the rest of us-forget they’re not 25 years old any more. Although it’s a great frame of mind, it can lead to taking chances that aren’t healthy. In the winter months, those unhealthy chances are often related to stretching the boundaries when it comes to snow and ice removal. When winter ice and snow arrive there are some practical things that can make life a bit easier:
- Hire someone to shovel your walkway or driveway, rather than doing it yourself. Consider trading services with a neighbor. For instance, one neighbor may use his riding mower in the summer to mow his neighbor’s lawn. The other neighbor then returns the favor by keeping his driveway and walks clear of snow in the winter. If you do plan to shovel yourself, take the task in smaller chunks, and give yourself a break or two in the middle.
- Keep your sidewalks or driveways clear with the sand/salt combinations so you can safely walk to the mailbox or out to greet neighbors.
- Sometimes the best answer is getting added help for an elder. Home health services or assisted living options might relieve some of the stress for an elder who is struggling to cope with daily tasks.
- Update your winter safety kit in your car. Do you have candles, dry matches, food, extra blankets, etc. in your vehicle? Even if you’re not planning on a road trip, having the emergency kit in your car could save you from frostbite or worse.
- If you have a cell phone, keep it with you and charged. Tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to return.
- Stock up on extra non-perishable food items at home. If a storm hits, you can safely cancel your activities and know you’ve got food to survive until the roads clear or the power comes back on.
Winter can be a beautiful time to enjoy, but it also poses some challenges. By planning ahead and using healthy common sense, you can enjoy the season and get ready for another delightful spring.
For more information about elder health or senior housing options, please contact Elim Care at (952)259-4500.