Caring for someone with physical disabilities? You’ll know that they need extra care in winter to keep them warm and comfortable. Poor circulation makes it difficult for those with limited movement, spasticity or cerebral palsy to keep cosy when the temperature drops. Hands and feet are particularly susceptible to the cold. Lower temperatures also cause muscles to contract, which can cause pain. Cold, dry air can aggravate breathing problems and lead to dry skin and chap lips.
If you are caring for a child or adult with physical disabilities, here are some ideas to get you warmly through winter.
Winter care for children with disabilities in the home
While electric or gas heaters are a great way to keep the ambient temperature comfortably warm, continuous use can lead to stuffy, dry air. Prevent dry skin and coughs by using a humidifier to help keep the air moist.
You may also need to apply cream or body lotion to prevent dry skin. If your charge has limited movement, use this opportunity to give him or her a gentle hand and foot massage. This not only helps to warm up the limbs, it relaxes muscles and improves circulation. If the person you care for dislikes being touched, spray-on skin oil is a quick and easy way to relieve dry skin.
Warm baths and showers are great for soothing and relaxing cold muscles. So too is swimming in a heated pool or jacuzzi. The warm water makes it easier for blood to circulate and relieves pressure on joints made stiff from sitting in a wheelchair. Always remember water safety first.
Winter clothing tips for people with disabilities
Getting gloves onto hands with spasticity can be near impossible! Mittens are easier, or long winter socks are an effective substitute. Plus, they stretch right up the arm for added warmth. For freezing feet, thick socks, fleece slippers or soft boots are a must.
Blankets tend to slip off children or adults seated in a wheelchair. Make sure they are tucked in securely, or try a weighted blanket (for brief periods only). These offer the additional advantage or providing a calming effect on children and adults with sensory processing disorder, but they must be used under supervision. Another option is a sleeping bag zipped up to waist level before settling the person in their chair. Unlike a firmly tucked in blanket, a sleeping bag allows legs to move freely while still keeping them toasty warm.
Although the old wives’ tale about losing 50% of body heat through our heads is a myth, wearing a beanie helps keep temperature stable. Protect the neck area too with a hooded sweatshirt or top.
Hot water bottles, heating pads and toe warmers
Some people with disabilities find a warm (not hot) bottle or pad, placed on their lap or under their feet, comforting. Gently-heated pads are also useful to relieve joint and chest pain, anxiety and migraine. Be aware of the very real danger of burning if the bottle or pad is too hot, or is left in one place for too long. This is crucial if the person you care for cannot move the pad away, or let you know if the heat becomes too intense.
You can buy single use adhesive toe warmers at Sportsman’s Warehouse and other retailers. Simply activate them by snapping or exposing to air; they provide heat for up to five hours. Because they’re easy to carry in a pocket or handbag, these warmers are ideal for outings if the weather suddenly turns cold and your charge isn’t dressed warmly enough.
At bath time, pop towels and fresh clothing into the dryer for a few minutes to take the chill off them before they are used. If you don’t have a drier, laying clothing out in a patch of sunshine ensures it feels warm and comfortable when put on.
Make sure they get enough Vitamin D
Fresh air and sunshine are essential, even in winter. If at all possible, take the person you care for outside for at least 30 minutes a day. Sunshine not only provides warmth, it’s also essential for the production of Vitamin D. Known as the ‘sunshine’ vitamin, Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and phosphate, keeping bones, teeth and muscles healthy.
Children who don’t get enough Vitamin D may develop rickets. A lack of this vitamin can also cause bone pain. If it’s not possible to take your charge outside, top up on Vitamin D by including egg yolk, margarine or tuna mayonnaise in their diet.
Have your own tips about winter care for people with disabilities? Use the comment section below to share – we’d love to hear from you.
Disclaimer: Please note that these tips are intended merely as a guide. LITTLE EDEN and its staff are not responsible for any accident or injury that may result from using these tips in circumstances beyond our control. If in doubt, please consult your medical practitioner who can advise further on specific treatment for the person in your care.