As nursing assistants, medical assistants and patient care technicians, taking care of patients during the winter months requires more support and monitoring than the rest of the year. While there is no factual evidence as to why, cases of depression and risk of heart attack have been shown to increase dramatically during the winter. Mental health and cardiac events are not the only factors patient care professionals must adhere to – there are several elements of the body that get particularly affected in the cold.
Be sure to closely monitor, support and properly treat these cold-sensitive body parts.
The months of December, January and February are known for being the coldest months of year, but many people don’t realize that they are also the driest. Making sure your patients’ skin is properly moisturized is very important to prevent rashes and redness from forming. Instruct your patient to apply lotion or coconut oil to their entire body and lips every day (you may have to assist any elderly or invalid patients). Also, reminding patients to wear sunscreen year-round is strongly recommended, as the sun’s rays can be just as harmful to skin when bouncing off the snow as they are in the summer time.
Skin isn’t the only body part to be affected by the dryness of winter. Your patient’s eyes need extra moisture in the form of eye drops due to crisp, outdoor air and indoor heating units. They also need to protect their eyes from harmful UV rays with sunglasses. Snow has been proven to reflect nearly 80 percent of the sun’s rays, and these rays can cause many forms of eye damage, including photokeratitis, cataracts and even macular degeneration.
Joints and Muscles
Arthritis and joint pain are much more prevalent in the cold weather, and older patients may experience difficulty getting out of bed and moving around. This is because joints and muscles are less elastic and take longer to warm up, which leaves people feeling stiff and tense. You can help relieve your patients’ pain simply by massaging the affected areas. Massaging stiff joints helps to loosen muscles, increase blood flow and reduce inflammation.
For years, doctors have been trying to determine a definitive explanation behind the increase in cardiovascular disease and heart attack during the winter months. North Ohio Heart found that cardiac-related death rates were 36 percent higher between the months of January and March than any other months regardless of location. One probable explanation involves the fact that rigorous physical activity in cold weather causes a great deal of stress on a person’s body, which increases the risk of heart attack or stroke. Advise your patients to be careful when exercising or participating in outdoor activities while temperatures are freezing or close to it.
Mood and Mental Health
As it gets deeper into winter, the days start to become shorter, and darkness fills the sky earlier than most people would like. This scarcity of sunlight during December and January causes many patients to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. Properly named, SAD truly does cause depression and lack of energy. You can help improve your patients’ mental health with various light therapy techniques, such as additional bedside and table lamps and daytime walks in the sun. Also, ensuring patients eat a healthy diet, get plenty of sleep and visit with loved ones frequently are other important factors in overcoming wintertime depression.
Taking care of patients during the harsh, winter months is no easy task and requires compassionate, capable nurses and nursing assistants. If you’re interested in starting a career as a nursing assistant or medical assistant, visit us online today.