The cold and gray of the winter months can be hard for anyone, but they can feel especially grueling to individuals who are stuck in their homes without much interaction. Winter can also be hard on caregivers who can’t even get their loved ones outside for some sunshine. This winter readiness guide provides ideas to help beat the bleary weather blues and keep everyone warm, comforted, and content.
Advice About Cold Safety
When the weather gets chilly, people often think of space heaters as a way of saving on energy bills, but Jeffersontown Fire Department Fire Marshal Tom Carroll says “space heaters are a source of lots of winter fires,” and most of the time it is because they are used incorrectly. While he suggests turning the thermostat up or putting on warmer clothes as the safest ways to warm up in the winter, he and other firefighters know that people are likely going to buy space heaters anyway.
With that in mind, he recommends that people do the following if they are determined to use a space heater:
- Make sure the space heater has the approval of Underwriters Laboratories.
- Follow all of the manufacturer’s instructions for operating the space heater.
- Keep the space heater 36 inches away from anything combustible (including the floor beneath the space heater. Do not use a space heater on carpet, linoleum, or wood.)
He also recommends that anyone who has any kind of fuel-fired appliance, such as a natural gas furnace, water heater, or kerosene heater, needs to invest in a carbon monoxide detector. Carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless gas, is a silent killer; some 430 people die every year in the United States due to carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the CDC. Like smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors can be hardwired, battery-powered, or can plug into wall outlets.
Advice About Routine
Katherine Autin, longtime caregiver and CEO of Parkinson Partners and Visionary Caregivers, says chronic illness and caregiving can both feel like long winters even when the weather isn’t cold and the sky isn’t gray, but keeping to routines can be helpful.
Individuals who have just had surgery or who have chronic illnesses feel like so much is out of their control. They can’t control their health, their healing, or their prognosis, but keeping to a routine each day is something they can manage. A change to their routine, either accidental or intentional, can cause them a great deal of anxiety. “Anytime you change their routine, they get stressed out which makes any symptoms that they’re experiencing worse. And it also makes them feel like they’ve lost any kind of power,” she says.
Caregivers also need to keep to routines, especially when those routines involve taking care of themselves and their own health needs. It is essential for caregivers to refill their medications on time and get checkups with their own doctors. Another important routine for caregivers to stick to is their own hobbies or interests they enjoy, whether it be taking an hour for knitting, jewelry-making, or doing yoga.
Since cold or icy weather often makes staying inside the house a necessity, Katherine suggests watching movies and looking through old photographs, especially of places you’ve traveled to in the past. (Seeing old photos from Florida or Hawaii might even warm you up a bit on those frigid January days.) Winter is a great time to revisit some board games or, if the weather allows, invite friends over for tea.
Advice About Movement
It is all too easy to become sedentary during the winter months, but keeping the body moving is essential to keeping aches and pains at bay, as well as preventing injuries. “Falls tend to happen in the winter because people are moving less,” says Julie Snowden, physical therapist and owner of Advanced Orthopaedic Physical Therapy. She suggests stretching, postural strengthening, and aerobic exercise as part of a winter fitness plan.
“Most people in the day don’t even put their arms over their heads, so put your arms over your head and bend side to side,” she says. Getting a hamstring stretch in is a good idea too. Julie suggests putting one foot on a chair and stretching forward and backward, but she says it is important to hold onto the back of the chair or the wall to avoid getting wobbly (or to have someone nearby to spot you). Stretches should be held for 30 seconds.
An easy way to build some upper body strength is to do some wall pushups. Julie says to place both hands on the wall at shoulder height and bend your elbows, trying to touch your nose to the wall and then push back. Kicking your legs out sideways slightly up into the air as you stand next to the wall is a great way to strengthen the side of the hips (glutes). “That’s the most important muscle for pivoting and shifting,” Julie says.
When it comes to aerobic exercise, Julie suggests walking up and down the hallway of or even marching in place for 10 or more minutes. She says some people are more task-oriented; they don’t want to do random exercises, but are happy to move around as part of their regular activity. Cleaning out a closet during the winter can get a person moving.
By Carrie Vittitoe