January is here, and with it, the harshest of the weather, so here are some senior winter weather safety tips that may be the difference between life and death.
Senior Winter Weather Safety Tip: Use safety when shoveling.
Use safety when shoveling.
This is more than just making sure you don’t fall on the ice. When it’s cold outside, your heart has to work twice as hard to keep you warm. Add to that the stress that shoveling heavy snow causes on your body, and you are risking your health every time you shovel–especially if you already have heart disease. If you suffer from osteoporosis or have balance issues, shoveling adds even more danger. Icy walks make falls more common as well. For seniors, whenever possible, it’s best to let someone else do the shoveling for you–you’ve probably shoveled enough in your lifetime! Many teens and young adults earn money by shoveling snow, and at a nominal fee.But if you can’t afford to pay someone to shovel snow, and you don’t have family who can help, take precautions. Wear thermal underwear and several layers–multiple layers keep you warmer than one thick layer because the air between the layers helps you stay warm. Make sure you have warm boots that have a good tread to help prevent slipping. Pay attention to any pain–your body may be sending you messages that you need a break. Its a good idea to always let someone know where you are, and tell them you will check in with them in a certain amount of time–that way, if they haven’t heard from you, they can come check on your safety. When it comes to weather safety, you can’t be too careful! In fact, one of the main reasons seniors move to a Providence community is that they want that maintenance-free lifestyle–they don’t report missing snow-shoveling! The National Safety Council has this article for more on shoveling snow safely.
Senior Winter Weather Safety Tip: Avoid hypothermia.
Are you thinking this is too dramatic a word? Well, it isn’t! Having hypothermia simply means your body temperature has dipped too low, and it’s quite common for seniors. In fact, according to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), more than half of hypothermia-related deaths last year were of people over the age of 65. One reason older adults are more at risk is because of changes that happen to your body when aging. Never let your body temperature dip below 95 degrees–if it does, get medical attention as soon as you can. A low body temperature may lead to heart attack, kidney damage, liver problems, and more.
Stay indoors as much as possible, but keep that indoor thermostat set at 65 degrees or warmer. If you are worried about a high heating bill, close vents in rooms you do not use and close the door to those rooms. You can also roll towels at the base of the doors to stop cold air from coming out. And if you MUST go outdoors on those chilly days, dress for warmth (see above), including warm socks, a heavy coat, and a warm hat, pair of gloves, and scarf. Watch yourself and others for early warning signs of hypothermia, including puffy or swollen face, pale skin, slow or slurring speech, acting sleepy; being angry or confused. Call 911 right away if you believe you or someone else is showing signs of hypothermia. For more information on hypothermia and the warning signs, read this article from the Mayo Clinic.
Senior Winter Weather Safety Tip: Watch out for fall risks.
Watch out for ice (and other fall risks)!
“Unfortunately, falls are a common occurrence for senior citizens, especially during the winter months,” says Dr. Stanley Wang, a physician at Stanford Hospital. Often these falls can cause major injuries, such as hip and wrist fractures and head trauma. Dr. Wang says that the complications from these injuries are a leading cause of death in those over age 65.
To prevent falling, invest in a good pair of shoes or boots, with good traction and non-stick soles. If you walk with a cane, make sure your rubber cane tip is in good shape; if not, replace it with a new tip. Stay on sidewalks that have been cleared of snow and ice, and use handrails when available. Stay off any walkways that look wet–they may be iced over. Clear off (or, better yet, have someone else clear off) all walkways and outdoor steps. Take off your shoes once inside so that the moisture from your shoes doesn’t make an indoor slipping risk. For more tips on how to prevent falls, read this article from seniordirectory.com.
Senior Winter Weather Safety Tip: Combat isolation.
Combat isolation and seasonal depression.
There are several reasons that people report feeling more depressed in the winter months. First, inclement weather tends to encourage isolation. While many older seniors have ceased driving due to eyesight issues, this means they rely on others to take them where they need to go, and friends and family are less likely to help out in the winter. Consider making a scheduled phone meeting with someone when the weather is poor. You can make someone’s day with a simple phone call.
But beyond that isolation, sometimes just not seeing the sun for a long time can really have an effect on someone’s outlook. The Mayo Clinic reports that a lack of sunlight also reduces the levels of serotonin, a brain chemical that affects mood, and that drop may trigger depression. One of the best ways to combat these feelings is to soak up any available sunlight, which we see mostly in the mornings. Open up those curtains and raise those blinds. If budget and health allow, take a trip, even a short trip, somewhere sunny. Exercise also helps–even light exercise has been shown to decrease depression. Exercise releases endorphins, which naturally make you feel happier. Click here for some exercises that will help seniors with balance and strength.
Senior Winter Weather Safety Tip: Practice home-heating safety.
Practice home-heating safety.
Unfortunately, due to home-heating devices, more home fires happen in winter than any other time. Even more alarming is that people aged 65 and older are three times more likely to die or be injured in a home fire than any other age group. And even MORE alarming is the dangers that come with carbon monoxide poisoning due to faulty heating systems!
These facts may seem disturbing, but there are simple steps that can be taken to avoid these dangers. First, make sure you have fire detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in strategic places (areas you use fireplaces, wood stoves, or kerosene heaters), and on every level of the house. Check the batteries once a month and replace them a minimum of once a year. Also, give that space heater space–at least three feet away from anything flammable, such as bed sheets, curtains, and furniture. Most of the newest space heaters are made with the added safety precaution of turning off automatically if the heater falls over. Finally, get those annual inspections for your chimneys and make sure you have a fire extinguisher handy on all levels of the house. Check out these safety tips for older adults from the National Fire Protection Association.
The best tip we can share with you to keep safe in these winter months is to get help if you need it. Keep your telephone charged and nearby, and check-in with family and friends so they know when to be concerned if they haven’t heard from you.