It's been such a mild fall; we forget what is really about to happen. Last weekend, Daylight Saving Time ended, and we rolled our clocks back one hour. While some of us may be grateful for the extra hour of sleep, the seniors in our lives may take some time to adjust.

Get ready for a 4:30 p.m. sunset. 

Light and temperature affect us all, particularly children and elders. The darkness outside brings us back indoors, starts the evening three to four hours earlier than in the summer months, and triggers our "circadian rhythm," or our internal clock.

If our central nervous systems are developing, or if they are struggling, it can be more challenging to adjust. Even with the one-hour time change, many of us without those issues will sense that "something is different." If your elder is someone who gets turned upside down easily and needs extra reorientation...be prepared.

Be prepared.

How can we, as their friends and family, be proactive to reduce the disruption? Good question!

  • Be prepared. Anticipate what you've observed in years past.
  • Identify which parts of the time/season change are the most problematic.
  • Compensate for decreased light. Put timers on lights in living spaces and set them to turn on one hour before dusk.
  • Consider leaving a few lights on throughout the house overnight.
  • Make a check-in phone call in the morning to check on orientation, and daily around 4:00 p.m.
  • Validate elders' feelings of being "turned around" after the time change.
  • Make sure all the clocks in the house are changed to avoid confusion. Many seniors still own manual clocks, watches, and appliances that need changing.

In addition to the change of clocks and increased darkness, it's the time of year we are 'buttoning" up the house for winter. Use the following checklists to get you started:

Household Checklist:

  • Furnace/water heater check and cleaning
  • Dryer vent removal of lint
  • Removal of leaves from gutters
  • Storm doors, weather stripping, and windows
  • Check space heaters for safety, tipping, fire hazard — consider removing these from the home completely
  • Smoke detector and carbon monoxide battery changes
  • Check the fire extinguisher expiration date
  • Add non-slip weather mats at doorways

 

Personal Needs Checklist:

  • Do their boots and overcoats fit or need replacing?
  • Are their boots too heavy or difficult to put on?
  • Do summer things go into storage, and winter clothing comes out?
  • Secure your snow removal arrangements
  • Evaluate footing and identify potential tripping hazards
  • Consider implementing a personal emergency response system

 

Routine Checklist:

  • Check with their local senior center or Council on Aging about activity options and transportation
  • Consider grocery delivery to avoid risky trips during bad weather
  • Arrange rides to events, church, library, book club, etc.

 

Special Outings

  • Try mid-week and mid-day outings to museums, PEM, MFA, Science Museum, Aquarium, etc.
  • Meals, holiday shopping, decoration viewing… Something FUN!
  • If walking distances are an issue, transport wheelchairs are light, easy to use, and inexpensive.
  • Create opportunities to get out of the house and decrease the "homebound" experience.

 

Other considerations:

  • Is their car coming off the road for the winter?
  • Did they have ice dams last winter?
  • Are there winter home repairs that should be made?
  • How will a power outage be handled?
  • Is a generator possible?

The old adage always proves true.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Being aware of the issues associated with vulnerable elders at home during the winter months allows us to be proactive and potentially avoid much more significant problems. The goal is to keep our seniors safe and well. Get help with what you can't do or deal with. Don't leave your elder loved one… in the cold, in the dark, or isolated at home. Think spring… but deal with winter!