Managing Chronic Conditions in Seasonal Weather for Seniors

Category: Assisted Living

With climate change, we tend to be more concerned with the effects of hot weather on seniors. While heat-related illnesses are a huge concern, according to the National Institute on Aging (NIH), seniors are more likely to be at risk for cold weather-related health issues as well. This is particularly true with seniors already dealing with a chronic condition.

A woman smiling as she walks in seasonal weather. She has a long sleeve with a hoodie tied around her waist and is also wearing sunglasses.

How Can Seasonal Weather Changes Affect Chronic Conditions in Seniors?

The NIH notes that seniors are more likely to have certain chronic medical conditions that make it more difficult to stay warm in the colder months, such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid issues
  • Arthritis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Memory issues that may lead to forgetting to take precautions against sudden weather changes

Seniors are also more likely to have poor circulation and be on medications that may affect body heat. All of these things make them susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia.

How Does Humidity Affect Chronic Conditions Like Arthritis in Seniors?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, colder temperatures and humidity can both worsen arthritis symptoms. Doctors are unsure why this happens. One theory is that people are hesitant to be active during winter months, which makes the joints experience more pain. Another theory is that the change in barometric pressure that comes with weather changes affects arthritis symptoms when it is humid.

How Can Cold Weather Impact Chronic Respiratory Conditions in Seniors?

According to the American Lung Association, cold weather often leads to weather that is also dry. For those with lung disease, dry air can irritate the airway, leading to wheezing, coughing, and difficulty breathing. In the winter months, seniors need to avoid respiratory illnesses and distress by getting vaccinated, avoiding large crowds, and loosely wrapping a scarf around their face when outdoors in cold weather.

What Are the Best Ways for Seniors To Manage Joint Pain During Winter?

According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the best ways to manage joint pain include:

  • Regular exercise: Gentle stretching and low-impact aerobic exercise help alleviate pain
  • Physical Therapy: A physical therapist can help you work on posture and ensure you’re moving correctly so you don’t inadvertently create more stiffness. If you have arthritis, regularly attending physical therapy is the best way to establish a safe exercise routine that won’t cause damage to sensitive joints while alleviating pain.
  • Rest when needed: Meditation, yoga, and intense relaxation are also great for dealing with pain. Exercise is great for arthritis, but don’t overstress your body.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: The body needs some body fat to stay warm in the winter, but being overweight can contribute to arthritis pain and future complications
  • Maintain healthy habits: Things like quitting smoking (smoking increases arthritis pain) and eating healthy to reduce inflammation can make a big difference in pain management
  • Hot and cold therapy: Applying an ice pack to sore joints after a workout can reduce inflammation and pain. Using a heating pad when your joints are aching can alleviate pain.
  • Pain medication and prescription drugs: Over-the-counter painkillers can occasionally be used for activity-triggered pain. Talk to your doctor if these drugs are not working or if you could benefit from a prescription drug treatment for arthritis.

How Can Seniors With Chronic Conditions Stay Active During Inclement Weather?

The National Council on Aging (NCO) recommends that older adults maintain an exercise routine to stay active, reduce pain, and keep their health in check. A mixture of strength training, mobility practices, and aerobic exercise is ideal for maintaining all these aspects. Consider exercising indoors to properly control temperature. Indoor exercise can include:

  • Yoga
  • Tai chi
  • Doctor-approved stretching routines
  • Walking up and down the stairs while holding onto the handle
  • Using a stationary bike
  • Lifting small weights

The NCO notes that older adults are more at risk for vitamin D deficiency from a lack of sun. Therefore, sitting outside for brief periods, doing an outdoor activity, or taking a walk on a nice day can be ideal for getting some sunshine.

When going outside, be sure to:

  • Check the forecast and dress appropriately (e.g., bundle up if needed, wear shoes with good tread, wear sunblock)
  • Bring someone with you on walks
  • Be sure to take your cell phone with you
  • Warm up your body first with some stretches and walking in place

Tips for Chronic Conditions in Seniors During the Winter Months

On top of what you normally do to manage your or a loved one’s chronic condition, the NIH also recommends the following:

  • Keep the thermostat at 68 degrees or higher. For seniors, hypothermia becomes a risk at temperatures as low as 60-65 degrees.
  • Be sure to winterize the home to avoid any cold air getting inside
  • Be sure you or your loved one is eating enough to maintain weight
  • On cold days, close the blinds/curtains and dress in multiple loose layers to keep warm (even when you sleep)
  • Add throw blankets in the living room and extra blankets on the beds
  • Create a buddy system to check on each other in cold months to ensure everyone is safe and warm
  • Consider staying in an assisted living facility or a skilled nursing facility during the winter to ensure you’re warm and your condition is managed by medically trained staff

Chronic conditions in elderly patients are always a cause for concern. However, since seniors with chronic conditions are less likely to be able to tell when their bodies are becoming too cold, it can quickly become a serious health problem in the winter months. You can better navigate the changing weather by following the tips above and considering a short stay in a nursing facility such as Haven Health.

Are you looking for a senior care facility near you? Contact Haven Heath to learn more about how a skilled nursing facility can help you and your loved one. 

Sources:

Arthritis. (2023).
Arthritis pain: Do’s and don’ts. (2023).
Cold Weather Safety for Older Adults. (2024).
Staying Active in Cold Weather: A Safety Guide for Older Adults. (2023).
Weather and Your Lungs. (2023).