Checking on seniors is an important part of their care. Many seniors live in their homes, and many live alone. Usually these older adults can take care of themselves. But sometimes they need some help.
When you check on seniors, you make sure they are physically okay. You see that they haven’t fallen down or become too sick to take care of themselves. You also can make sure that they stay safe. You can help them with tasks around the house to ensure their safety.
There are certain times of year that checking on seniors is especially important. This includes during the winter and summer months. During these times, extreme temperatures and conditions can cause problems for older adults. But accidents and unexpected events can happen anytime. So it’s important to check on seniors all year long.
Path to improved safety
Here are some ways you can help older adults when you check on them.
In the winter
- Watch for areas where they could fall. Shovel snow off their sidewalks. Older adults should not shovel snow themselves. This is especially true for those with high blood pressure or heart disease. Put road salt, cat litter, or sand on walkways to reduce the chances of slipping.
- Check the thermostat. Make sure the temperature in the house is high enough. Set the thermostat at 65 degrees or higher. Older adults are at higher risk of hypothermia. Hypothermia is when the body temperature drops. It can lead to sickness or death.
- Encourage them to dress in layers when they go outside. Wearing 2 to 3 thin layers of clothing is warmer than wearing 1 thick layer. Also make sure they have sturdy, non-skid shoes or boots to wear. If they use a cane or walker, check it for a secure rubber tip.
- Be careful with heaters. If seniors rely on space heaters to keep them warm, make sure they are located at least 3 feet away from any furniture, walls, or curtains. Remind seniors to not leave these heaters unattended, and to turn them off before going to bed or leaving the house.
- Look for signs of seasonal depression. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is an increase in depressive symptoms during the winter months. Seniors are more at risk of developing SAD because of health conditions, a loss of social networks, and chemical changes in the brain that come with age. Symptoms to look for include appetite or sleep changes, sadness, anxiety, loss of interest, or feelings of hopelessness.
In the summer
- Watch out for dehydration. This is a common problem in seniors. They may not be able to sense thirst as well, so they don’t drink as much as their body needs. Plus, some medicines can cause dehydration. Look for symptoms like fatigue, dizziness, confusion, and fewer trips to the bathroom. Encourage seniors to drink more water. Give them a snack of foods that contain water, such as soups or fruits.
- Check the thermostat. Make sure that air conditioners are working and are set to keep the house cool enough. Temperatures in the house should stay under 85 degrees. If there is no air conditioner, make sure that fans are working and are being used to help circulate the air. You could also take seniors to places like shopping malls, movie theaters, or libraries for a cool break.
- Encourage them to stay indoors. During the heat of the day, it is important for seniors to stay inside where it is cool and comfortable. Keep them out of the sun whenever possible. If they will be out in the sun, be sure they are protecting their skin. They should wear long sleeves and pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and plenty of sunscreen.
- Check in often. When the temperatures are high, try to check in on seniors twice a day.
Other times of year
- Clear the leaves. In the fall, leaves can cover walkways and driveways. This increases a senior’s risk of falling down. Keep surfaces clear of leaves, especially after it rains. Wet leaves are even more slippery than dry ones.
- Watch out for allergies. In the spring, allergies can cause unpleasant symptoms for seniors. These include runny nose, sneezing, congestion, and itchy or watery eyes. Help them reduce their risk of developing allergies. Keep the windows closed, don’t take them outside on days with high pollen counts, and have them wash their hands often.
Things to consider
We don’t always live just around the corner from our senior loved one. Checking on them every day might not be an option. When it’s not, there could be a service that can help you. Police departments across the country offer an automated calling system for seniors who live alone. Seniors receive an automated phone call every day. The call will ask them to press a certain number if they are okay. If they don’t answer, they’ll get 1 or more additional calls. If they still don’t answer, an emergency contact will be called. If necessary, a police officer will go to the home to check on them.
The system is no substitute for a visit from a live person. But it can bring you peace of mind when you’re too far to visit yourself. Call your local police department’s nonemergency number to see if they have a daily calling service for older adults.
Questions to ask your doctor
- How often should I check on my senior loved one?
- What are common conditions that seniors can develop?
- What symptoms should I look out for?
- At what point is it not safe for my loved one to live alone?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.