The weather is often a lively topic of conversation in the UK. However, the sub-zero temperatures of recent weeks have been particularly noteworthy. Especially when it comes to protecting people against negative repercussions. Older people and those living with physical disabilities can be particularly vulnerable to cold weather. From slippery frost and ice on the ground to biting wind and rain affecting outings and health, winter can bring with it plenty of difficulties.
Here are some ways to help your care home residents – and staff – look after themselves at this time of year and prevent accidents and winter-related incidents from happening.
Stay warm indoors
As we age, we tend to lose body heat more quickly than when we were younger. So, we feel the cold faster and can be more prone to succumbing to seasonal viruses and bugs. If body temperatures drop too low, this can cause more serious problems, including hypothermia, liver damage and heart conditions. Make sure that room temperatures are set high enough to keep vulnerable residents warm and cosy. Have extra layers easily to hand, such as blankets, jumpers and scarves. Wearing several lighter layers can really help keep out the cold, as the air between the various layers gets trapped and helps keep people stay warmer. Check that there are no gaps around windows or doors that could let cold air into the room as well.
Encourage people to wear socks and slippers, as more heat can be lost through exposed extremities (e.g. hands and feet) than from elsewhere on the body. Some medical conditions can make it harder for people to stay warm indoors. For example, dementia or memory loss can prevent people from realising that they need to put an extra layer on. Physically painful conditions such as arthritis can make it more difficult to move out of the cold, or put on more clothes without assistance.
Use your care management system to plan warm, nutritious meals for your residents, and check that they are receiving enough nutrition for their needs by using the in-built monitoring tools such as weight loss and fluid intake checkers. Make sure that residents have access to plenty of hot drinks and snacks throughout the day.
When the days are shorter and the sun less bright, this can lead to issues around poor visibility and an increased risk of falling or tripping over something. Make sure that all rooms inside the care home are brightly lit and that there are no tripping hazards. If you need to dry wet boots, bags or coats etc., keep them out of the main areas so that people don’t have to step around them. Don’t forget to check that your outside areas are properly lit too, especially stairs, entrances and paths.
Keep plenty of supplies around to defrost frequently walked paths and walkways. Clear snow and ice fully for any vehicles before taking them out – check local weather forecasts to make sure that it is safe to drive. Check that nothing is in disrepair that could cause an accident in the ice or snow. For example cracked steps, broken handrails or wobbly paving stones. Use your digital care management system to keep track of maintenance projects, manage supplier invoices and schedule repairs.
Winter weather and shorter days can bring about mental health concerns as well as physical difficulties. Some people live with a condition known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. This can lead to sleep problems and fatigue, depression or low moods, feelings of irritability or stress and a lowered resistance to infections. There are several ways you can help residents who are feeling low or affected mentally or emotionally by winter conditions.
Light therapy can work well – even sitting in front of a light box for 15 to 45 minutes per day can make a difference. Talking therapy can also help, as can encouraging people to take part in a range of activities designed to stimulate the imagination and distract from the darker, duller weather outside. If you are particularly concerned about any of your residents feeling lower than normal, talk to their doctor to see if they would benefit from additional therapies or medication. Check, too, that they are not suffering from any unwanted side effects from medication they are already taking, Again, this can be checked easily using your care management system’s eMAR function.