Winter Safety for Seniors
As the song goes, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year” when it comes to the winter months. They are typically full of family gatherings, traditions, and holiday celebrations. However, as the temperature drops outdoors, hazards can increase with all that winter can bring.
Activities outdoors that used to be done without thought should be given consideration as to how safe they are, and how to modify the activities to be performed safely and independently by seniors. Did you know that seniors lose body heat at a quicker rate than younger adults? Also, common conditions in older adults can also have a negative result on overall body heat retention such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, and thyroid issues. Be aware of the signs of hypothermia and frostbite, which and occur if you stay outside too long in the cold. Warning signs of hypothermia include weakness, cold/pale skin, confusion, fatigue, difficulty walking, and slower than usual breathing and heart rate. It’s very important for seniors to bundle up and cover exposed skin when going out in sub-freezing temperatures. Seniors should avoid prolonged cold exposure if at all possible.
Colder weather and snowy or icy precipitation can make normally safe walking and driving routes dangerous as well. Seniors should be sure they have a charged cell phone with them at all times when driving or walking outdoors. It is also important to ‘winterize’ your senior’s vehicle to be sure the tires, windshield wipers, and anti-freeze are all up-to-date and functioning properly. Check to be sure your senior’s car has a good ice scraper and ice melt available in the car. The chances of a fall increase substantially on icy or snow-covered ground. If a loved one is susceptible to falling, try avoiding falls by wearing non-skid soled boots and ensuring that canes and walkers have rubber tips on them.
Older adults should also try to avoid shoveling snow. According to the Cleveland Clinic, shoveling snow results in more than 11,000 injuries each year sending people to the hospital. Of these patients, 7% experience cardiac problems, many of which are heart attacks. Cold weather has been shown to play a part increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke while shoveling snow.
Even indoors, it is good to prevent potential dangers that may be present.
House fires are more likely to occur during the cold months. Before using a fireplace for the first time each season, it is a good idea to have it serviced and the chimney flue cleared. Be sure that the fireplace is always attended to if it is burning, use a screen on your fireplace, and have a fire extinguisher nearby just in case. If space heaters are being used in the home, place them in an open area away from drapes/material, and do not lay anything on top of a space heater. Space heaters should be turned off when not in use and plugged directly into the wall rather than through an extension cord. It is also important to test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms before heading into the winter months.
Finally, while Covid-19 may not be as looming of a threat as it posed in 2020, it is still important to stay boosted on all vaccinations including flu and Covid-19, and stay away from anyone who may be ill. Seniors need to continue to stay hydrated during the winter, even though they may not report feeling as thirsty as they do in warmer seasons. Older adults can dehydrate quicker, so be sure to have a plan to get enough water each day.
By taking these extra precautions, seniors and their families can experience the magic of the winter wonderland months and stay healthy and well throughout the holidays!