In more ways than one, winter weather can make life a little harder for seniors. At Concordia Lutheran Ministries, our experts break down some of those difficulties into five categories and provide insight into the ways the Concordia family helps alleviate these burdens.
Colder temperatures don’t just feel bad on exposed skin, they can lower a person’s core temperature, too, heightening the risk of hypothermia. Some seniors who have pre-existing conditions such as thyroid problems or diabetes are more susceptible to temperature drops.
“A lot of (older) folks are on blood thinner medicine, and they tend to get colder quicker,” said Dan McKnight, a nurse practitioner, CRNP, for Concordia Physician Practice at Concordia at Cabot. “People’s skin also thins as they age, so a lot of the protective mechanisms are reduced.”
The National Institute on Aging recommends seniors should spend a lot more time indoors and dress warmly, even when inside. If a senior has to go outside, they should wear hats, scarves and loose layers.
Some seniors may feel compelled to leave their homes if they need routine healthcare, but Concordia offers seniors a high-level of care in the comfort of their home through Concordia Visiting Nurses (CVN). The home health service of CVN can provide a person with skilled nursing, telehealth and in-home therapies and treatments with a physician’s referral.
Slick sidewalks create dangerous conditions for seniors, particularly those who already struggle with their mobility. Seniors with existing conditions such as arthritis or Parkinson’s disease may particularly struggle to move around safely on slick paths. McKnight said falls are a primary concern for his older patients during the winter months.
“We do see an increase in slips, trips and falls during the bad weather,” he said. “A lot of complications can stem from one simple fall.”
While seniors need to practice caution outside, accidents can happen at any time. Luckily, the Cabot location also features outpatient physical therapy to help patients recover from falls. If more intensive care is needed, multiple Concordia retirement living communities feature short-term rehabilitation services, including Concordia at Cabot, Concordia at Rebecca Residence, Concordia of the South Hills, Concordia at Sumner, and Concordia Village of Tampa (Fla.)
Exposure to illnesses like the flu, COVID-19 and pneumonia are common during winter. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seniors have a heightened risk of developing serious complications from these types of viruses and infections.
“Folks like those tend to have worse outcomes when they get the flu or COVID-19,” McKnight said.
During the winter months, everyone can practice good habits to reduce their risk of getting sick. People can wash their hands, cover their coughs and sneezes and stay home when sick. Also, Concordia has orchestrated multiple COVID-19 vaccine clinics, and Concordia Physician Practice regularly offers both pneumonia and flu vaccines to residents and the general community.
“People are indoors more, so things are getting spread around more,” McKnight said. “Seniors have to be more alert and protect themselves.”
Some seniors will get sick, and in those situations, it can be difficult to keep up with routines and maintenance around the home. Concordia Private Care offers a solution, both in the short and long terms, if needed. The service provides such tasks as light housekeeping, assistance with errands and grocery shopping.
Cold, dry air isn’t just a concern for meteorologists. This type of air can make breathing difficult for some seniors, especially those who have existing conditions, like COPD.
“Any kind of weather changes, even heat too, can exacerbate respiratory problems,” McKnight said. “It can exacerbate symptoms.”
The American Lung Association has said cold, dry air can irritate airways and cause coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. The association also recommends seniors should limit their time outside to avoid the cold and wind. If a senior does need to leave their home, they should wear a covering over their nose and mouth, possibly with a scarf that you can breathe through.
If you or a loved one have respiratory problems that require intervention, Concordia Medical Equipment offers durable medical solutions – and they’ll make the ordering process as hassle-free as possible by helping with ordering and working with your physician.
When the snow falls, it piles up, and it has to go somewhere. Seniors should be wary of tackling too much snow themselves. McKnight said shoveling snow is the “number one” thing that comes to mind related to heart strain.
“A lot of these folks probably don’t do that at Concordia’s campuses, but whenever people exert themselves, particularly those with existing heart problems, they have a higher risk of high blood pressure and heart attacks.”
McKnight recommends seniors should instead ask for help from family and neighbors, from brushing snow off their windshields to shoveling their sidewalks.
At Concordia’s retirement communities, most of our residents’ snow worries disappear – all outdoor maintenance is handled by our team. Along with heating bills that don’t change month-to-month and a host of indoor activities, our communities can really help to ease the winter blues.
Tips and awareness about these problem areas are helpful, but for Concordia at Cabot, it’s nice to have boots on the ground only steps away. In addition to being housed in one of the Haven Apartment buildings, Concordia Physician Practice also offers house calls to campus residents who are already established patients.
“We can do same-day appointments, same-day sick appointments, which is almost unheard of since the pandemic,” said Beth Bollman, practice manager.
The practice also serves the greater community surrounding the Cabot campus, too. They serve anyone age 18 or older, including physicals and health maintenance. The practice has grown to have four full-time medical professionals as well as a number of nurses and support staff, all working in tandem.
And, when the need arises outside office hours, the practice provides its own on-call staffing, opting not to outsource it.
“A provider is on-call every night, every weekend and every holiday,” Bollman said. “There is a certified clinician here all day, every day.”
To learn more about the various ways Concordia helps seniors and other age groups throughout the winter months – including family medicine, senior care, senior living, home care and more – visit the Care Levels page of our website here.
Founded in 1881, Concordia Lutheran Ministries is a faith-based, CARF-CCAC-accredited Aging Services Network and recipient of the inaugural Pennsylvania Department of Aging Excellence in Quality Care Award. As one of the largest nonprofit senior care providers in the country, the organization serves 50,000 people annually through in-home care and inpatient locations in western PA, eastern OH and Tampa, FL.
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