Staying healthy during the winter months
By Jan Hansen | January 08,2013
Not all seniors or retirees want to spend their winter months in sunny locales. If you're one of the many who will be spending this winter at home, you might find that getting through the cold, snowy season is a bit more challenging than it used to be.
As tough as cold weather is on everyone, it's especially dangerous for senior citizens, so successfully surviving winter takes some extra care. Here are some tips for staying safe and healthy during the coming winter season.
Battle of the “Bugs”
It can seem that winter is the time of year for some of the worst colds and flu. Yet, many elders successfully navigate the season with little more than an occasional sniffle. What's their secret?
• Eat a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables. Good nutrition provides many benefits to seniors, including resistance to illness and disease, higher energy levels, a more robust immune system, faster recuperation times, and better management of chronic health problems.
• Get the sleep your body needs. For some, that means eight hours or more.
• Exercise! Regular exercise is essential for overall health. Getting your body moving will help battle winter weight gain, ward off depression and may even help you sleep more soundly. Consider walking through the mall or trying one of the many in-home exercise options available.
• Drink lots of liquids to keep properly hydrated. People over 60 can get dehydrated more quickly than younger adults. Remember drinks with caffeine and alcohol actually dehydrate, so be sure to drink lots of water, milk and juice.
• Wash your hands frequently to rid them of germs that cause problems. If you can't wash, use one of the handy alcohol-based hand cleansers.
• Get a flu shot. It's not too late to get your flu shot. Rutland Area VNA & Hospice still has flu vaccine available and is offering both flu and pneumonia vaccinations. The flu is highly contagious, so if you do get the flu, stay home. Lots of bed rest, a mild pain reliever and plenty of fluids are the best treatment.
You might think it would be better to just stay inside all winter long. But that's neither practical nor healthy. When winter ice and snow arrive, here are some useful tips to make life a bit easier.
• Avoid strenuous activities if possible. Find someone to shovel rather than doing it yourself. If you do plan to shovel, stretch to limber up, shovel small chunks and take frequent breaks.
• Avoid falls. Wear boots designed for winter weather. Use walking support or find someone to walk with.
• Wear layers of clothing when you go outside. Layers allow you to add or take off winter wear as needed. Be sure to cover all exposed skin including the head, face, earlobes, hands and feet. Wear water-repellant outer layers.
When inside, take extra care when using fireplaces, wood stoves, space heaters and candles, as they can cause fires and fill rooms with smoke or carbon monoxide.
• Place fresh batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors at the onset of cold weather.
• Conserve interior heat by keeping windows and doors closed in rooms you're not using. You can also cover windows with draperies, place towels along cracks at bottom of doors.
You may not be doing many outdoor activities during this time of year, but it is important to try and maintain some social contact. As often as possible, continue going to church, volunteering, getting together with friends and family.
Sometimes the answer is getting added help. Home health services or assisted living options might relieve some of the stress for seniors struggling to cope with daily tasks. For more information about health care services for seniors, contact Rutland Area Visiting Nurse Association & Hospice at 775.0568 or visit our website at www.ravnah.org
Submitted by Jan Hansen, MSN, MA, RN, Community & Occupational Health Services Manager
Rutland Area Visiting Nurse Association & Hospice