Holidays present challenges for older loved ones

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By Angela Rocheleau

“Tis the season.” Winter is a special time for caution if you or someone in your family is an older adult. It is the season for the flu, for slips on icy streets, and for other dangers that are particularly great for seniors. It’s also a time isolation can set in — especially during the holidays. Here are some helpful answers to questions we often receive from family members this time of the year.

Q: We live in an area where lots of seniors are still in their own home. Many seem so lonely. How can we help seniors who are living alone not to be so isolated during the holidays?

A: We recommend you make an extra effort during this season to reach out to your elderly neighbors. Sometimes just a phone call, a card or a short visit can make a huge difference for them. Make an extra batch of cookies. Arrive at their door with some holiday decorations and ask if you can help decorate. Help them write their holiday cards. If you don’t know of any seniors in your neighborhood contact the local nursing homes or senior citizen centers and ask them if you can connect with a senior. Show you care.

Q: What should I do to help my elderly parents prepare for the winter weather ahead? They still live in their own home.

A. Here’s where extra precautions will always pay off. We recommend the following measures. Arrange to keep all walkways and driveways free from snow and ice. Improve lighting in high-traffic areas both inside and outside the home. Put a well-secured floor mat by the entrance door to catch any falling snow or ice from shoes or clothing. In case of severe weather or storms, make sure seniors have plenty of batteries for radios and flashlights, food, pet food and medication supplies. Arrange ahead of time to have a neighbor or caretaker check in on them.

Q. My grandmother thinks she is immune to the H1N1. I know that no one is, so how can I help minimize her chances of getting the flu?

A. Many illnesses could be avoided if adults and caretakers just did something as simple as wash their hands correctly. We utilize the washing technique outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for all our home health aides and staff and recommend it to our clients and their families: Wet your hands with clean running water and apply soap. Use warm water if it is available. Rub hands together to make a lather and scrub all surfaces. Continue rubbing hands for 20 seconds. (This is the length of time needed to sing Happy Birthday twice or the “ABC’s.”) Rinse hands well under running water. Dry your hands using a paper towel or air dryer. If possible, use your paper towel to turn off the faucet and to open up the door.

Angela Rocheleau has 25 years of experience in the home health care industry focusing on leadership roles for the past two decades. She serves on the Better Business Bureau board of Central New England and the Executive Board of the Mass Council for Home Care Aides.