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What to consider for aging family members facing the effects of colder months

Aging family members face dangerous risks during the winter months. They are more susceptible to dangers, both physical and emotional. They are at higher risk for slips, falls, car accidents, hypothermia, carbon monoxide poisoning, seasonal depression and many other dangers.

“The families of older adults often live far away, or have busy schedules that keep them from watching over aging family members as much as they’d like,” said Debbie Hellyer, the general manager of the Comfort Keepers location in State College, “Comfort Keepers is able to assist these families during the challenges of winter.”

Comfort Keepers is one company that provides non-medical in-home care for elderly adults. They have around 125 employees who assist seniors year-round with more than just personal care -- especially during those difficult winter months -- from the company’s locations in State College, Altoona and Clearfield.

Older adults are more vulnerable to exposure due to unregulated home temperatures. “Some of the seniors we provide care to suffer from dementia and don’t understand the air conditioning and heating systems,” Hellyer said. “This can leave this age group susceptible to hypothermia or carbon monoxide poisoning.”

It’s also important that heaters and fireplaces are free of blockage and flammable sources and that home temperatures are at safe levels.

There is also a social toll that winter can have on some elders who have a tendency to shut themselves off from others. “Isolation and the long dark days of winter can lead to depression, which can cause a loss of appetite and lead to malnutrition or exacerbate other existing health conditions,” Hellyer said.

Caregivers, such as those at Comfort Keepers, can transport elders to events and doctors appointments to avoid isolation, and can also pick up prescriptions and give friendly reminders to take their required medicine. They are also able to provide companionship to help with health, spirits and appetites.

Winter weather and its impact can be managed by seniors and their families with some simple advance planning. “Our caregivers can provide peace of mind for seniors and their family members by being that steady arm and safety prompt,” Hellyer said.