Winter weather is bad for everything: Your car, your house, your knees, your heating bill. But it’s especially bad for older adults. According to the CDC, as people get older, they’re more likely to die from extreme cold or winter-weather events.
Senior citizens are less likely to sense cold than younger adults, and they don’t shiver as much, so they can’t generate as much heat. Other factors, such as thinning skin, lower muscle density, and side effects from medication can further add to the risk. It’s a recipe for disaster.
If you have elderly family, friends, or neighbors, check in with them this winter and share these safety tips:
Avoiding Frostbite and Hypothermia
Cold temperatures can lead to frostbite and hypothermia for anyone, but the risk is especially high for people over the age of 65.
Hypothermia, a condition where the body temperature drops too low, can occur when you are out in the cold for an extended period. Similarly, frostbite occurs when your body experiences damage to the skin from extreme cold.
The key to avoiding both lies in staying covered up, warm, and out of the elements. Here are some helpful tips:
- Don’t let indoor temperatures dip below 65 degrees Fahrenheit
- Dress in layers
- If you’re going outside, wear warm socks, a heavy coat, hat, gloves, and scarf
- Cover all exposed skin
- Stay dry
Your body temperature should never dip below 95 degrees – if it does, seek medical assistance immediately. Also, remember that shivering is not a good indicator of body temperature, as older adults tend to shiver less!
Stay Safe While Shoveling
Shoveling snow is one of the worst parts of winter, and NO ONE likes to do it. But while it might be an annoyance to you, it can pose a true danger to senior citizens. If your older loved one likes to do their own shoveling, make sure they take some precautions.
- Ask the doctor whether shoveling snow is advisable
- Remember that your heart works double time in cold weather and take frequent breaks
- Wear comfortable, non-slip boots
- As always, dress appropriately (several thin layers is better than one heavy layer)
Prevent Slipping on Ice
During the winter, icy sidewalks, snowy roads, and slippery steps make it easy to trip and fall. Unfortunately, falls are a common occurrence for older adults – especially during the colder months. Just one misstep can lead to a sprained ankle, fractured hip, or something much worse.
To help prevent slips and falls, take the following precautions:
- Wear shoes with good traction and non-skid soles
- Replace worn cane tips
- Consider an ice pick-like attachment that fits onto the end of the cane
- Make sure steps and walkways are clear and salted before heading outside
- Take off shoes once you return indoors to avoid making the floor wet
Stay Safe Indoors
During the winter months, many people choose to use a gas or kerosene heater, fireplace, or lantern to help keep warm. Unless they are properly vented and cleaned before use, they can leak carbon monoxide (the “silent killer”) into the home. These portable heat sources can also be fire hazards.
Before you use them:
- Install carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors, if you don’t already have them
- Replace batteries on your existing detectors
- Call a professional to inspect chimneys and flues
- Crack a window when using a kerosene heater
- Make sure heaters are at least three feet from anything that might catch fire
If you think you may have been exposed to carbon monoxide, get outside immediately and seek medical attention.
Winter Storms and Power Outages
Depending on where you live in the country, winter weather can be a very serious problem. Here in the northeast, we often experience heavy snow and high winds – which often lead to power outages.
To help your older loved one stay prepared:
- Stock up with at least seven days of food and water
- Keep food items that are non-perishable, such as canned goods, peanut butter, crackers, etc.
- Have a supply of flashlights and fresh batteries on hand in case the power goes out
- Stockpile warm blankets
- Stash some salt or cat litter to help your older loved on gain traction on icy surfaces
- Get absorbent pads for pets who normally get walked outside
Fighting Seasonal Depression
Many people, both young and old, struggle with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). For older adults, who may already feel isolated and alone, it can be especially difficult. Cold air and bad weather can make it even more difficult to get out and see others, which can lead to loneliness and depression.
To help them beat the winter blues, arrange for family members, neighbors, and friends to check in often – even if it’s just by phone. You may also consider arranging transportation to and from an adult daycare a couple days a week, or even hiring a home aide to check in on occasion. Just a little bit of conversation can make a huge difference!
Winter can be tough – but a little preparation can make it a lot easier! Help your older adult make it safely through the winter by going over our checklist together and making sure they have everything they need.
Did we miss anything? What’s on your winter prep checklist that we didn’t cover?