Elderly Woman Winding Clock

Trick or Treat? So far, this year feels more like a "trick." 

Is your loved one's neighborhood still participating in Halloween, even if in a limited capacity?  Consider putting a basket of candy outside in the driveway, not necessarily right next to the door.  Although this may be a "light" trick or treat year, it's a good idea to have a family member visit with your elder on Halloween during the evening hours.  If you can't be there in person, a telephone check-in is a must. 

On Halloween night, only two weeks away, we move the clocks back one hour.  

Some of us are happywe get one extra hour of sleep - no complaints there.  However, change in temperature and daylight has an effect on our central nervous system, and the experience of this shift will vary from very little to more consequential.  Children and elders can have a more intense reaction if their central nervous system is taxed by cognitive loss, attention deficit, difficulty regulating mood, mental health issues, or neurological conditions like Parkinson's or Autism.  Although it seems "environmental" to many of us, the earlier onset of darkness outside can "reset" their inner clock The change of sunshine and fresh air can be an unwanted trigger for increased anxiety, confusion and disruption.  

Sundowning. 

As dusk approaches, those who experience the phenomenon known as "sundowning" can experience more disorientationconfusion, and even paranoia.  Subtle changes inherent in the time change can trigger behaviors that can range from distressing to dangerous.  We often see more roaming around the home, not sure "what to do," wandering outdoors and not being dressed for the cool of the season.  

Be prepared. 

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

  • Anticipate what you've observed in years past 

  • Identify which parts of the time/season change are the most problematic 

  • Compensate for decreased light Add timers to lights in living spaces so they 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 pm 

  • 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. 

  • Is it time to get some "help at home?" 

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: 

 
  • Check and clean furnace/water heater 

  • Remove all lint from the dryer vent 

  • Removleaves from gutters 

  • Storm doors, weather stripping, and windows 

  • Check space heaters for safety, tipping, fire hazard - consider removing these from home completely 

  • Change batteries in all smoke detectors and carbon monoxide devices. 

  • Check the fire extinguisher expiration date 

  • Add non-slip weather mats at doorways 

  • Secure your snow removal arrangements 

  • Set up salt or sand buckets near doorways 

  • Check outdoor lighting at doorways 

Other considerations: 

  • Is their car coming off the road for winter? 

  • Did the roof have ice dams last year? 

  • Should winter home repairs be taken care of? 

  • How will they handle a power outage? 

  • Would a generator be helpful? 

  • Is grocery shopping/delivery every few weeks possible? 

  • Are they dependent on meal prep and delivery? 

  • Would a small freezer and individually prepared meal servings help? 

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 storageDoes winter clothing come out? 

  • Evaluate footing and identify potential tripping hazards 

  • Consider implementing a Personal Emergency Response System 

  • Are there medical, dental, eye, or specialist appointments that could be made now before the snow flies? 

  • Would a HEPA filter be helpful in their living space? 

Activity Checklist: 

  • Check with their local Senior Center or Council on Aging about activity options, transportationand COVID-specific plans to keep seniors engaged 

  • Consider grocery, medication, and supply delivery to reduce exposure 

  • Are church services, book clubs, or craft clubs offering online experiences? 

  • Can you set up a rotating family visitation schedule? 

  • 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 

  • Get a takeout meal, eating it "picnic style" outdoors or by the beach 

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 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! 

Joanne MacInnis, RN, is the founder and president of Aberdeen Home Care, Inc., of Danvers, a concierge private duty home care agency in business since 2001. With 35 years of nursing practice, management and administration experience focused on home care and hospice, Joanne and her team specialize in advising and supporting families addressing the elders in their lives retain dignity and quality of life.