Senior facility director offers tips to keep older loved ones safe from the cold

Escapes from facilities happen easily
Senior facility director offers tips to keep older loved ones safe from the cold
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As police investigate whether an 84-year-old woman’s death outside of an assisted living facility in Sun Prairie was cold weather-related, a local nurse and senior care facility director says escapes happen easily, and there are a few things you can do to make sure your older loved ones stay safe from the cold.

Karin Krause, a registered nurse and director of Hope & A Future on Madison’s west side, said older people are highly susceptible to cold weather.

“As people age, they can lose body heat a lot faster,” Krause said. “We all know there’s something about collagen that lets go of a layer of body fat that helps insulate you. When you start losing that and your skin starts sagging, you start absorbing the temperature around you faster.”

Krause said escapes from assisted living facilities are common and bitter cold temperatures can make them deadly. She said patients with dementia can figure out a way to not trip alarms and avoid detection, especially at larger facilities, where staff may be busy. She said aside from dementia, residents who come down with an acute illness, like the flu, can become temporarily confused and walk out into the cold.

“With the flu or any type of infection, many people also get confused on top of it, and that puts them at an increased danger,” Krause said. “(Escapes) happen very easily, and when I hear about them I feel bad for the staff, because I know how awful they feel.”

Krause said the best advice for families of seniors is to choose an assisted living facility with long-tenured staff.

“They…have the opportunity to get to know people better and understand the person better, so if there are changes in behavior, when they might try something they normally wouldn’t, or if they’ve figured out the alarm system, then they know they have a risk,” she said.

For seniors who live independently, Krause said families should make sure neighbors are checking in with their loved one — and that people check in on their older neighbors.

“When we get into this kind of weather, if people would just check on their neighbor and say ‘Hey, can I look in your refrigerator and make sure you have enough food in here to get through this cold snap?’, you may save a neighbor’s life who may try to get out in this weather and slip and freeze to death,” Krause said.