Bitter arctic cold, snow, sleet and freezing rain have affected much of the US already in 2024, including the South. Administrators need to take precautions to keep not only residents but staff and visitors safe as well. That’s why it is important to have a detailed emergency preparedness plan and staff trained for winter safety in assisted living facilities.

Avoid frostbite and hypothermia

Older adults are particularly susceptible to the cold because the ability to regulate body temperature becomes more difficult with age. Medical conditions can affect this, too.

Frostbite damages the skin and underlying tissue during prolonged exposure in freezing temperatures. Numbness, pain and skin turning pale or white can often be treated by gently warming the affected area. However, frostbite can be severe, resulting in permanent damage to the tissue, gangrene, infection, or even amputation.

Hypothermia is a dangerous, and often deadly, condition for older adults. Statistics show that approximately one-half of all hypothermia deaths occur among persons 64 years old and older, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Warning signs include: shivering, confusion, memory loss, drowsiness, exhaustion, fumbling hands, and slurred speech.

But hypothermia doesn’t just occur outdoors in wet or frigid weather. According to the National Institute on Aging, “Living in a poorly-heated home kept below 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius) can be a risk for older populations.”

Assisted living facility staff should be properly trained on measures to keep residents warm and dry. Make sure residents are dressed warmly and have extra blankets. Gentle movements, when appropriate, can also help keep blood flowing and warm the body. Helping residents stay hydrated is important, too. Warm beverages like tea and cocoa offer the added benefit of warming the body from within.

Reduce the risks of wandering and elopement

Wandering or elopement at any time is serious. But during winter, cold temperatures and snow and ice increase the risks of cold stress, frostbite, and hypothermia. Assisted living providers should train staff on elopement procedures and to keep a watchful eye on residents, especially those who pose a higher risk of wandering. Security measures, such as alarm and video monitoring systems, should be regularly reviewed to be sure they are fully operational.

Prevent slips and falls

The majority of incidents and liability claims in assisted living facilities are the result of resident falls. But slips and falls on snowy or icy walkways can happen to anyone. Snow and ice should be removed promptly and walkways treated with deicer. Residents should remain indoors as much as possible. Staff and residents should be reminded to wear shoes that have non-skid soles and good traction if they must venture outside.

Emergency Preparedness Plan

To improve safety in assisted living facilities, administrators must not only establish an emergency preparedness plan but ensure staff are adequately trained on emergency response. Regular training, refresher sessions, and drills can keep staff ready to implement the plan at a moment’s notice.

Expert help to improve safety in assisted living facilities

With training developed by experts in senior care, SeniorLivingU provides educational solutions for the senior living industry to help improve quality of care while reducing risks and liability.

Our Anytime Learning Portal makes it easy to train staff on a wide range of topics, including safety in assisted living facilities. With round-the-clock access, employees can learn at their own pace from multiple devices whenever they have time and wherever they are. Administrators can track progress and verify completion of the training course.

SeniorLivingU’s risk and safety resources include courses on fall prevention and manuals to help administrators develop an emergency preparedness plan.

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