- Written by Angela Norris Angela Norris
For many of us, winter brings its own unique challenges. But for seniors with complex medical conditions, the winter months present serious health risks.
Families, caregivers, and long-term senior care facilities can, however, minimize the risk during the chilly winter months with a few simple measures to make sure loved ones emerge healthy when the first crocuses appear.
The most crucial step you can take is utilizing your caregivers. If your loved one has been in post-acute or long-term care, talk with caregivers and ask questions.
You can develop a holistic approach with clinical, rehabilitation, wellness, and nutrition specialists, and by working together, you’ll minimize the risk of complex medical conditions and gain the emotional support you need to provide the best quality of care.
Because chronic conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, weaken immune systems and wound healing, the winter months present elevated risks of lost tissue strength, complications from the cold and flu season, and reduced circulation because of inactivity.
According to the National Institutes of Health, as many as 6.5 million Americans suffer from chronic wounds at an annual cost of $25 billion.
First and foremost, wounds must be dressed and proper winter clothing must cover the area when outdoors.
If a chronic wound is on the hand, for example, make sure your loved one never leaves the house during the winter months without adequate winter gloves to protect the wound from the elements.
Additionally, the cold and dry weather reduces moisture levels surrounding chronic wounds.
Special wound dressings, such as collagen and alginate dressings, hydrocolloids, foams, and hydrogel dressings, have been developed to increase needed moisture at the wound site. Talk with your clinician to find the best dressing to use for your loved one.
Moisturizers can also be used around the wound area to help reduce irritation. If your loved one is averse to the feeling of moisturizers (a common problem with men), try “non-greasy” moisturizers instead.
Further, the cold and flu season presents a significant risk to a loved one with an already compromised immune system. To reduce the risk of a secondary infection, families, caregivers, and long-term senior care facilities must use precautions.
First, hand-washing is a frontline defense in preventing colds and flu. Whenever you visit or care for a loved one with a complex medical condition, make sure you properly wash your hands before any interaction. If you catch a cold or the flu, arrange for another caregiver to fill in while you recover.
Poor circulation due to inactivity is another of winter’s significant problems. If your loved one is part of a long-term senior care facility, make sure they have a good exercise and activity schedule.
If your loved one is at home, remember that any movement is better than remaining sedentary. Work together with your loved one to perform any activity that requires them to get up and move around.
If your loved one has difficulty walking, “chair yoga” provides significant benefits and gets their circulation moving.
As you gather together around the fire during the winter months, remember with just a few simple steps, you can significantly reduce additional complications so you all emerge happy and healthy when the days begin to lengthen again.
Angela Norris is senior vice president for StoneGate Senior Living LLC (http://stonegatesl.com), an award-winning, full-spectrum senior care and housing company. She has deep experience in nursing, payments, and accountable care models and previously served as vice president of an accountable care organization for the aged, blind, and disabled.