How to warm up your winter

Here are four house-warming items that offer benefits specifically geared toward seniors.

Susan Schaefer’s Minneapolis bedroom
Susan Schaefer’s Minneapolis bedroom includes three items to warm up the space in winter — a portable radiator (bottom left), a humidifier/purifier (near the window on the left) and a heated mattress pad (control panel on the right).

Ever been accused of having a thin skin? When it comes to maintaining proper body temperature, this old adage is no joke. 

As we age, our metabolic rate decreases and our skin literally thins. Often, our aging bodies just aren’t capable of generating enough heat to maintain a normal 98.6-degree body temperature. 

Subzero temperatures can be particularly brutal when they result in a cold bedroom, and with today’s focus on decreasing energy consumption, turning up the heat isn’t necessarily the best solution. 

After all, why heat a whole house when all that’s needed is a bit of extra attention in specific areas? Here are four house-warming items that offer benefits specifically geared toward seniors.

A heated mattress pad: Fond memories of an antique copper bed warmer being slipped into my guest bed in Edinburgh, Scotland, sent me on a quest. After a little internet detective work, I discovered the Biddeford Sherpa Heated Mattress Pad, which installed easily over my queen mattress to give me a feeling of five-star slumber every winter night. 

I crank it up before turning in, and then shut it off when I get into bed for a toasty snooze. It includes a 10-hour auto-shutoff, dual controls and 10 temperature settings. It’s also machine-washable. Cost? A queen-size version goes for $90 at Kohl’s.

A fan-free space heater: We hearty Minnesotans know that keeping a cooler bedroom is recommended, but we can take a hint from our European friends by creating a warmer welcome to the bedroom just before our bedtime.

As with switching on a heated mattress pad, you can preheat the bedroom with an energy-efficient, low-wattage electric oil heater.

Such heaters are silent and don’t blow dust around — a plus for allergy suffers. The Pelonis Oil Filled Radiator Heater is available for under $80 at many local hardware stores. With only one hour of preheating, you can shut your heater off and enjoy a shiver-free turning down of your bed sheets.

An ‘air-washing’ humidifier: Dry winter air cracks skin and dries sinuses. One way to create a perfect indoor environment, day and night, is by investing in a humidifier/air purifier. A cool-mist humidifier is the preferred option to a warm-mist humidifier in terms of safety, cost and area covered. 

A warm-mist humidifier must boil water to create steam so there’s always a risk for burns, and because it uses heat to boil water, it consumes more energy. And while heated steam produces a more concentrated stream, a cool-water humidifier spreads droplets over a much wider area. 

The German-made Venta Airwasher is a 2-in-1 product that humidifies as well as purifies and costs about $300. 

It doesn’t require filter replacements, so the only maintenance needed is to fill it regularly and rinse the reservoir and its permanent filter occasionally.

A heated-seat bidet: My European holidays introduced to me to the luxury and hygiene of heated-seat bidets. 

A modern bidet (pronounced beh-DAY — from the French) is basically a sanitary toilet apparatus with a warm lavatory seat and a retractable, self-cleaning nozzle that sprays warm water to clean one’s genitals. 

Europe, Japan and other parts of the world have long utilized this sensible alternative to wiping. Washing with water is gentler than scraping dry paper across your tender parts. Some units even feature a handy puff of air for drying. 

Using a soft stream of water is excellent for individuals who suffer irritable bowel syndrome or have difficulty reaching behind themselves. Plus, the gentle jet cleans more efficiently, and provides added environmental benefits: You won’t need to buy as much toilet paper — or those pre-moistened flushable wipes, increasingly blamed for sewer clogs nationwide.

I’m a fan of Brondell’s highly affordable Swash 300 Bidet Seat. 

Needing minimal installation — it simply replaces your existing toilet seat — this mighty unit does everything that brands costing 10 times its price do for about $249. It plugs into an electrical outlet, which powers the integrated water heater, heated seat and dual washing wands (for separate front/feminine washing and backside cleaning) — pure luxury and ideal for a Minnesota winter.

Total budget? For a little over $700 dollars (or less) you can create a smart, simple way to enhance your lifestyle during the dark, cold days of winter. Living in Minnesota, this means a lot. Even better, the air purifier/humidifier and bidet work year-round. 

Isn’t it worth it to invest in you this winter?


Brondell Swash 300 Bidet Seat

A bidet toilet seat? Really?

Yes, really! 

The aging community and people with physical disabilities are increasingly finding the benefits of bidets — especially those integrated into traditional toilets — helpful. 

Personal hygiene is greatly improved with a gentle spray of water that more thoroughly penetrates difficult-to-reach, sensitive genital areas. 

Water washing is especially helpful post-surgery and for those who suffer from hemorrhoids and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). Moreover, environmentally conscious folks appreciate the fact that using a bidet means using less toilet paper, which can be abrasive in inflamed private areas and can leave fibrous bits of unwanted debris behind, too. 

A 2009 Scientific American article reported that if U.S. residents switched to using bidets, 15 million trees could be saved each year. And because it takes so much water to make toilet paper — a stunning 37 gallons for a single roll, according to the article — more bidet use could actually help the planet save water, too.

Anyone who has traveled throughout Japan or Europe knows that a bidet is an essential household item. 

In Europe, it’s typically a separate bathroom fixture, looking like a low basin positioned next to the toilet, with hot and cold faucets and an upward jet spray. To use, one squats, hovering over the spray.

But squatting and hovering to use a bidet isn’t required anymore, thanks to integrated models installed on toilets that allow one to sit during the water-washing experience — a better option for seniors, to be sure.  

There are models with heated seats, dual front and back adjustable nozzles, dryers, deodorizers, disinfecting basins with night lights and even programmable music. 

The Brondell Bidet seat mentioned in the accompanying article is a thrifty alternative to a high-end Japanese bidet seat. 

So how does it work? Do you need to wipe?

No. With a bidet, wiping really isn’t necessary.

Because you can adjust water pressure and warmth on a bidet — and aim the stream directly into the anus — any solids become completely dislodged and flow away. 

Some folks swipe first and use the water after. But they lose both the environmental benefits (using less resources) and the physical pluses (less irritating surface friction) of not using paper.

Imagine preserving your tender parts while helping save millions of trees — and billions of gallons of water — every year!


Susan Schaefer is a Minneapolis-based freelance communications consultant and writer who has traveled widely. Reach her at insights@lifeintrans.com.