Just as it can be difficult for seniors to admit they could use extra help, it can be hard for their loved ones to reach out for assistance when the duties of caregiving become overwhelming — especially during winter, a challenging time of year for anyone living in the northeastern United States.
While New York may look breathtaking under a blanket of snow, the frigid temperatures, unsafe road conditions, and health risks can be downright dangerous for seniors and caregivers alike. In-home respite caregivers give family and loved ones the relief they need during times of illness and inclement weather, and their expertise is invaluable when seniors face periods of heightened risk.
Here are five reasons to choose in-home respite care during the winter months to help take care of the senior in your life.
1. In-home respite caregivers can prevent you from spreading illness — like the flu — to your senior loved one.
Getting sick isn’t just tough on a caregiver. It can be a serious health risk to the senior you care for, particularly if you’re fighting off the flu. Even if you’ve followed flu prevention best practices for seniors to the letter, there’s still a small chance that an inoculated senior can catch the virus — especially if you haven’t received the vaccine yourself, or you work in an environment where germs spread easily.
Whatever has made you sick, be it flu, the common cold, or a stomach bug, you face a Catch-22. Either you stay home and leave your loved one without the care they need, or you visit and risk transmitting the illness. Even a cold that causes mild symptoms in a healthy adult can be devastating in an elderly patient with a weakened immune system, who may be at risk of developing pneumonia as a complication of the virus.
In-home respite care presents a third option, the best of both worlds. Family and loved ones can stay home, rest, and nurse themselves back to health. Meanwhile, experienced senior caregivers provide the companionship, daily living assistance, and health services your senior needs.
2. Professional caregivers provide expertise in winter safety for seniors.
Winter is especially treacherous for seniors over 65, who constitute 52% of lives lost to hypothermia, according to the CDC. Even when their heating systems are in working order, seniors are prone not only to more frequent slips and falls but also more serious injury owing to those falls. With winter’s perilously low temperatures and icy conditions, seniors require more advanced care and support during these critical months. Seniors can also be more prone to dehydration when it’s cold out, as they often experience fewer signs of thirst.
In-home respite care not only provides additional resources for caring for your loved one but also allows you to leverage the specialized expertise trained caregivers provide. Professionals who know how local weather conditions affect this particular population have extra tools at their disposal to ensure your loved one stays safe and warm all season long. They can identify warning signs of hypothermia early enough to provide meaningful interventions, prevent injuries due to falls, and keep you in the know about your loved one’s safety.
3. Local caregivers can fill in when inclement weather prevents you from reaching your loved one.
Winter adds to the list of challenges facing long-distance caregivers, as road conditions are hazardous during periods of snow or freezing rain. Even if you live within minutes of your loved one, you may face unique challenges during the harsh winter months. Many caregivers are part of the “Sandwich Generation,” meaning they have to balance caring for both their aging parents and children — not to mention their own aches, pains, or illness.
All of these responsibilities can pile up like a heavy snow, making caregiving an exceptional challenge during winter. If you sustain an injury while slipping on ice on the way to your car, or if your means of transportation isn’t well-suited to winter travel, you can easily put yourself out of commission as a caregiver.
Instead, you can call in support during this tough time of year. In-home respite caregivers have experience navigating the additional challenges of inclement weather, and can commit their time on the job exclusively to caring for your loved one. By delegating some caregiver responsibilities to a professional over a short period, you can:
- Prioritize your own health safety
- Dedicate yourself more completely to one task at a time, from career responsibilities to caring for children
- Enjoy added peace of mind knowing your loved one is in capable hands
4. Shorter days can exacerbate Sundown Syndrome in seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s.
If your loved one is coping with dementia, Alzheimer’s, or another illness that requires memory care, winter can be an especially trying time. In a phenomenon known as Sundown Syndrome, many memory care patients experience more severe symptoms after dark, including mood swings, confusion, and even hallucinations.
The extended periods of darkness during winter can prolong these distressing symptoms in your loved one, necessitating a higher level of care until springtime brings longer days with more sunlight. You may not have enough time or bandwidth to accommodate this greater need. Rather than feeling guilty about it — something that comes all too easily to devoted caregivers — you can call on the services of an in-home respite caregiver to supplement the time and attention you give the senior in your life.
5. Winter blues can compound caregiver stress. In-home respite care provides relief.
Caring for your loved one may feel like the most important responsibility you have, but it’s just as important to make sure you’re caring for your own needs. If you start to notice the signs of caregiver stress and burnout, you’re not alone — but pay attention to how your mood may be changing with the weather.
Even if you haven’t been formally diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), the lack of sunlight, outdoor recreation, and vitamin D during the winter months can put a damper on anyone’s mood, throwing fuel on the fire of caregiver stress. Meanwhile, the winter blues may also be affecting your loved one, making it critically important that both you and the senior in your life get the assistance you need and deserve.
In-home respite care can take some of the load off your shoulders so you can take care of your own health needs while giving your loved one added attention, care, and companionship until the sun returns and the winter blues abates.
Is In-Home Respite Care Right For You This Winter?
The decision to hire an in-home senior care professional to take on some of your caregiving responsibilities can be a difficult one to reach. After all, you know your loved one better than any professional — their needs, preferences, and personality. That’s why it’s important to choose a caregiver who takes the time to get to know your loved one and your family, then makes an effort to become a source of trust, compassion, and companionship for the senior in your life.
Westchester Family Care is here for you this winter. We’ll talk through your loved one’s needs, your needs, and any concerns you may have. Through home visits and discussions with family, we’ll collaborate on a plan of care that can involve anything from safety measures to daily life assistance, companionship and indoor activities, transportation, and medication reminders.