It's no secret that wintertime brings happy things like Christmas, holidays and family time – but it also brings a range of health concerns for the elderly. Winters in northern areas of the U.S. are harsh, especially in the state of Washington. Ice, snow and freezing temperatures make life challenging for everyone in the affected areas. Unfortunately, seniors are more susceptible to feeling the effects of winter mentally and physically.
Mental health during the winter months is often a struggle for everyone, including seniors. A significant contributor to winter blues is the lack of Vitamin D, which you absorb through sunlight. During the winter, days are shorter, and clouds often cover the sun in the daytime. For older adults, a deficiency in Vitamin D can lead to loss of bone tissue, muscle weakening, depression and a decreased ability to fight infection. To combat this lack of this essential vitamin, seek out food fortified with Vitamin D such as oily fish, mushrooms and eggs. If these foods aren't appealing, consider investing in a sunlight lamp, which is known to increase Vitamin D production in the skin.
Another contributing factor to a senior's mental health is the growing isolation that comes along with winter. Snow and unsavory conditions make travel difficult, so seniors often aren't as active as they are during the summer months. People who can still travel should make plans to visit a senior in their homes or offer to get them and bring them somewhere. For a tech-savvy senior, setting up Skype on a computer or a smartphone is a way to stay safe, but also get some companionship through video calling. For Apple users, Apple products come preloaded with the app Facetime, which is Apple’s video calling software.
Like a senior's mental health, physical health can also be difficult to maintain during the cold months. Another winter health tip for the elderly is to be mindful of ice and snow, both of which can lead to increased chance of slip and falls. Falls are extremely detrimental for older people and can lead to health complications for individuals over the age of 65. While this may seem like a given, it's what you can do to prevent it that matters. Don't leave physical safety to chance! Wear shoes with non-slip bottoms for maximum traction and keep pathways free of ice and snow. A new product to help seniors avoid a slip and fall is Vibram’s Arctic Grip shoe. This shoe allows anyone to remain completely upright on wet ice. Along with proper footwear, be sure canes have a new cap on the bottom for extra grip. And finally, try to avoid going outside in bad weather like snow storms or sleet.
Along with winter comes flu season. It's estimated that between 71 and 85 percent of flu-related deaths occur in people over the age of 65. Avoid the flu first and foremost by getting your flu vaccination. Flu season can last through January and even into February, so be prepared. Some insurance plans cover flu shots, so it may even be free. Make sure you wash your hands regularly and avoid touching your face as much as possible. It's good practice to wash your hands after you use the restroom and after you come home from being out. Eating a balanced diet for seniors can also help to boost your immune system and fight off the nasty flu bug.
Although the winter months can bring challenges for seniors, try to look on the positive side! Take this time to reflect on what you are thankful for in your life and spend quality time with family during the holidays.