Joseph Bower, Care Manager at Martlets Care (the social enterprise part of Martlets Hospice), comments on how we can look after the elderly, infirm or vulnerable over Christmas.
Caring for the vulnerable over the festive period is particularly important. The inclement weather, long nights and (for many) a lack of social contact can make life difficult.
Here are my top five tips on caring for the elderly, infirm or vulnerable over Christmas.
1. Mental health.
Christmas can be a lonely time for many and the vulnerable or infirm may feel especially isolated. Depression can set in very quickly. Several phone calls or short visits are better than one long visit on Christmas Day. Look beyond your immediate family – is there a vulnerable neighbour who would love some company for a little while over the Christmas period?
When it gets icy especially, many vulnerable people have falls and fractures are often left untreated. Ask if they have had a fall and check any bruises to ensure that nothing is broken or infected. Similarly they may be afraid to go out and might need help keeping their fridge or food cupboard stocked.
3. Adequate hydration
For those that can afford to, many people (not just the elderly) have their heating up quite high at Christmas and often don’t realise that they are dehydrating. Even mild dehydration can drain their energy and make them tired or confused. Monitor how much they are drinking. Two litres of water a day is the minimum for women, three litres for men.
It is easy to forget medications when people are having fun, unusual meal times and a few sherries! Check that medications are being taken at the correct intervals.
5. Early signs of hypothermia
As fuel bills rise, some elderly and vulnerable people will try to cut back on their central heating this winter. A room that may seem warm enough to you when you walk in from the cold may not be warm enough for an elderly or infirm person who can’t exercise. Take a thermometer if they don’t have a thermostat in the house. Between 20-21 Celsius is the appropriate room temperature – and check it is warm enough where they are sleeping, not just in the front room beside the TV.
Sometimes it is hard to tell if a person has hypothermia. Look for clues. Is the house very cold? Is the person not dressed for cold weather? Is the person speaking slower than normal and having trouble keeping his or her balance?
Early signs of hypothermia include:
- cold feet and hands
- puffy or swollen face
- pale skin
- shivering (in some cases the person with hypothermia does not shiver)
- slower than normal speech or slurring words
- acting sleepy
- being angry or confused
Keep your loved ones and neighbours safe over the festive period and have a wonderful Christmas.