Being a caregiver is a rewarding career that is full of ups and downs. It also comes with an enormous amount of responsibility. The comfort, safety, and well-being of the patient will rest entirely in your hands, and it is not something to be taken lightly.
Fall and winter can be a trying time of the year for patients living with a physical disability, those recovering from surgery or illness and house-bound seniors. That is why it is so important to make their homes as safe and comfortable for them as possible.
As the seasons change, so do the requirements of your job. The elderly wish to remain in their own home as long as they possibly can.
It is essential that caregivers understand how things are done differently in the summer than they would be in the dead of winter. Here is what you need to know to prepare adequately for the upcoming cold and snow.
It is critical to do a full assessment of the patient’s home, and fall is the perfect time to get it underway. Rather than waiting for problems to occur or issues to become apparent when it is cold, take stock of both the interior and exterior of the home. Give some thought to preventing potentially dangerous situations before the snow sets in.
Winterizing Inside the Home
Furnace: Schedule an annual furnace inspection before it needs to be turned on. This preventative maintenance step will help to make sure it is in peak operating condition when you need it. Change the filter as often as required to help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
Alarms: Carefully test all house alarms, C02, and smoke detectors, to ensure they are in top working condition. Replace the batteries in the spring and the fall for added security.
Windows: Check each window for drafts and seal those with worn sealant.
Pipes: No one wants broken or frozen water pipes. Making sure this doesn’t happen is as simple as insulating all indoor pipes and turning off the valves for faucets located outdoors.
Ducts: Air ducts should be cleaned seasonally to rid them of dust, dirt, hair, and other undesirable material just waiting to blow through the home. This is especially important if the patient has respiratory issues, such as COPD or asthma.
Winterizing Outside the Home
Front door area: Have salt or sand handy to toss down to remove the dangers from slippery stairs, driveways, and sidewalks. Make sure to keep the shovel within easy reach as well.
Clean buildups of snow and ice as they occur, since you never know when there will be a need to leave the home in a hurry. Also, repair uneven or cracked pavement, and make sure the area is well lit.
Waterproofing: If there are areas around the exterior of the home where water tends to pool, have them repaired before the temperature drops below freezing. This will help to avoid potential slips and falls.
Roof care: Make sure that eavestroughs have been cleared of debris and leaves. Look for worn-out shingles and have them replaced before there are leaks inside the home.
Automobiles: Before the first flakes start to fall, take the car(s) to your client’s mechanic and have them inspect it for winter readiness. Get them to put winter tires on as well.
Preparing for the Unexpected
Life never goes the way we expect it to, and in the event of an emergency, either medical or environmental, preparation can mean the difference between life and death. If the power goes out and roads are impassable due to a big storm, getting to the store may not be possible.
Stock up on non-perishable food — at least enough for three days. You should also keep a large supply of bottled water handy, since it can be used in everything from drinking and cooking to personal hygiene and cleaning medical equipment.
If your patient relies on lifesaving medical equipment, consider getting a generator in case of a failure. It will also run alternate heat sources if there is no wood stove in the home, and can be used to cook with a hot plate or induction cooker.
Make sure that medications are refilled before they run out. There can be grave consequences if even one pill is missed for some prescriptions. Keep cell phones fully charged, check the batteries in all flashlights and replace them as required.
Dryness in Cold Weather
The winter air sucks all the moisture from the skin, often making it itchy and painful. With skin much thinner than it was years before, the elderly are especially at risk.
If the home is overly dry, think about plugging in a humidifier to add some moisture back into the air. Additionally, make sure to use a good quality body lotion on your patient to avoid any discomfort.
During the winter, it is common for elderly patients to spend more time in their home than they would during the warmer months, as it is more dangerous and difficult to get around. Without the same levels of social interaction as they have during the other seasons, seniors often suffer from some degree of depression.
It is just as important to keep the mind active as the rest of the body, and caregivers are responsible for ensuring that those in their care remain happy, healthy, and stimulated. When possible, take the patient out of the house to run errands, go on short walks, or have them join activities at the local senior center. Social interaction means just as much in the golden years as it does throughout the rest of our lives.
When the weather just doesn’t cooperate, spend some quality time with your patient playing cards or board games, reading to them if their eyesight is poor, or just kicking back and enjoying a favorite movie together.
There is plenty to worry about when you have the care of another person in your hands. Being a caregiver is far more than preparing a balanced diet, changing IV bags, and tucking them into bed for the night. It is also highly focused on preventing the things that could go wrong.
By taking the time to prepare appropriately as each season approaches, you reduce the risk of having any serious mishaps occur. Winter is one of the most dangerous periods for the elderly, and it is up to you to keep them safe!