Falls - Winter weather brings increased chances of falling due to ice, snow chunks, slippery conditions. Balance issues can increase with age heightening the risk further for the elderly.
Some tips to prevent trips and falls in the winter: a) Make sure the walkways, steps etc. around your home are clear. If you are older, make sure you have someone younger who is able to help in this. b) Apply cat litter or rock salt to the walkways to provide traction and to help de-ice. c) Wear proper footwear with traction. d) If you use a cane or walker, use one with a rubber tip that provides traction.
Hypothermia - Hypothermia is a condition where the body temperature drops to dangerous levels and is caused by long exposure to cold temperatures. Our chances of developing it increase with age. Signs of hypothermia include cold, pale skin, confusion, sleepiness, balance issues, slowing heart rate or breathing.
Tips for preventing hypothermia: a) Stay indoors or only stay out for short periods of time when it is cold b) Set the heat in the house at about 65 or higher c) If you've been outside and gotten wet clothing, change quickly into dry clothes. Wet clothes help the body temperature drop faster d) Always dress warmly and cover exposed skin in cold temperatures with gloves, thermals, scarves, pants, hats, proper coats etc.
Tips for preventing fires or carbon dioxide issues: a) Call a professional to clean out your chimneys and flues b) Put up and maintain smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in optimal locations, especially near stoves, fireplaces, furnaces etc. Make sure the batteries are up-to-date c) Make sure space heaters and kerosene heaters are at least 3 feet away from any items that could be flammable d) Open a window just a crack to provide possible carbon monoxide build up an outlet to dissipate.
Frostbite - Frostbite is damage to the skin from overexposure to cold temperatures. It usually occurs on parts of the body farthest from the heart like your fingers, toes, chin, ears etc., and those with heart conditions and poor circulation, as well as the elderly, have increased risk. Signs include grayish, gray-yellowish, ashy skin, skin that feels waxy, numbness in the body parts affected.
Ways to prevent frostbite are much the same as preventing hypothermia - staying inside, or only going out in the cold for short periods of time; dressing properly for being outdoors in winter, staying warm etc.
Ways to prevent injury when shoveling or clearing snow: a) If you are elderly, hire someone to do it b) Work steadily, not strenuously, so your heart and your limbs function properly. Your heart works twice as hard in cold weather c) Lift with your legs, not with your back.
Winter Driving - As we age, changes in our body, like poor eyesight or delayed reflexes, can make driving more difficult. That is only compounded in winter, with threat of black ice, poor visibility and bitter cold. We need to be prepared.
Stay safe this winter!!!
- National Institute on Aging
- "The Older Adult's Guide to Winter Weather", Amy Ehrlich, MD, January 3, 2018, US News