The Winter months in the Northeast are fraught with freezing temperatures and grueling snowstorms. Winter poses many challenges, especially for older adults. How can we reduce our risk of falling ill or suffering an injury, while still remaining engaged in the community?

General Safety

There are several tips that you can implement on a daily basis to protect yourself in the winter months. First, it is important to stay up-to-date on cold temperatures and upcoming storms. Sources such as the Weather Channel, nightly news, and weather websites allow you to stay informed and prepared. It is also important to keep your homes stocked with flashlights, a battery-powered radio, water, non-perishable food, and extra blankets in case of power outages.

If there is a snowstorm, it is recommended that you limit going outside; however, if you must walk in the snow, be aware of wet pavement that could contain a layer of ice. Always wear shoes with non-skid soles and remember to replace the rubber tip of canes when they wear out. It is also important to take your shoes off as soon as you return indoors. This prevents melting ice and snow from creating slippery surfaces in your home.

If you are heating your home with a space heater, you should keep the device at least three feet away from fabrics, clothing, and other loose articles in order to prevent fire. The winter months are also a great time to check on the batteries of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors within the home.

Safety While Driving

Snow and ice are not only bothersome when driving, but can also lead to dangerous accidents. If you drive during the winter, make sure that your wipers and tires are working properly to ensure greatest visibility and traction. If you have a cell phone, always carry it with you when you go out driving. It is also a good idea to keep a spare phone charger in your car in case of delay. Make sure to take the safest route, not the most direct route. While it is beneficial to have emergency supplies within the home, it is also helpful to keep emergency supplies such as blankets, extra clothing, booster cables, a first aid kit, scraper, water, snacks, flashlights, and a map in the car as well.

Health Tips

During the wintertime, individuals tend not to spend as much time outdoors. This could increase the likeliness of Vitamin D deficiency. In order to maintain a healthy level of this essential vitamin it is important to consult your doctor if supplements would be helpful. Additionally, a diet rich in grains, seafood, and dairy could boost Vitamin D levels.

Whether it be colds, the flu, or pneumonia, illness is frequent during the winter.  In order to protect yourself and others, make sure to cover coughs, wash your hands often, and reduce physical contact with those who may be ill.

Older adults are at serious risk for developing complications from the flu. According to the CDC, 70-90% of flu-related deaths occur in individuals over age 65. Doctors recommend that most Seniors should receive a flu vaccination each year through injection (not nasal spray) by the month of October. Many doctors also encourage individuals to consider pneumococcal vaccines to prevent infections such as pneumonia or meningitis. Make sure to speak with your doctor before receiving any vaccination. If you experience any of the following symptoms, go to the doctor, as you might have the flu: fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, aches, headaches, chills, or fatigue.

Cold-Related Illnesses

Older adults loose body heat more rapidly than younger adults and are therefore more likely to suffer from conditions directly related to being cold.

Hypothermia results when body temperature gets too low, which usually occurs at temperatures less than 95 degrees. This can lead to complications such as heart attack, liver damage, or kidney failure. Warning signs of hypothermia are cold hands and feet, slow speech, pale or puffy face, confusion, trouble walking, or slow breathing and heart rate. In order to prevent hypothermia, you should keep rooms warm (68-70 degrees) and dress in layers inside. Wearing hats and socks, even indoors, can help your body maintain a stable temperature. When going outside, always wear a warm coat, hat, and scarf. If your clothing becomes wet, remove it immediately. Some medications and medical conditions affect the ability to regulate temperature. Be sure to speak with your doctor to determine if you are at risk.

Similar to hypothermia, frostbite is a condition related to cold temperatures. It results when there is deep damage to the skin, oftentimes reaching the bone. While the prevention tactics are similar to hypothermia it is important to know the signs specific to frostbite. Frostbite often appears as white/ashy skin that could have a gray tint. The most common locations are on the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, and toes. It will often fell numb. Run the area under warm (not hot) water and immediately seek medical care.

Generally, older adults are at risk for social isolation. This risk is even greater in the Winter months due to weather restrictions. Even if we are not able to connect with others in person, it is important to stay engaged through other mechanisms such as phone calls, text message, or social media. If you are looking for activities to stay busy throughout the day, try indoor gardening or working on an ongoing craft project.

While snowstorms and cold weather can often bring dreariness and dread, being prepared will allow us to face this season head-on.

 

Sources Consulted:

  1. Lee, Andrea. “7 Winter Tips for Seniors”. Retrieved from: care.com/s/stories/5447/winter-safety-tips-forseniors
  2. National Institute on Aging, “Cold Weather Safety for Older Adults”. Retrieved from: nia.nih.gov/health/cold-weather-safety-older-adults
  3. “People 65 Years and Older Influenza”. Retrieved from: Cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/65over.htm
  4. “Winter Safety Tips for Older Adults”. Retrieved from: healthinaging.org/resources/resource: winter-safety-tips-for-older-adults