For many, winter is a wonderland filled with fresh snowfall, a chance to hit the slopes and an excuse to curl up by the fire. On the other hand, cold temperatures, snow and ice can present many challenges, especially for seniors. Taking the necessary precautions and following these tips can help you and your loved ones stay happy, healthy and safe this winter.
Dress appropriately for the cold
Exposure to cold temperatures, for a certain length of time–depending on the individual, can lead to hypothermia and frostbite, especially if you are improperly dressed. The length of time an individual can endure cold weather is shorter for seniors than it is for younger adults because they are not able to regulate their body temperature as effectively.
Some of the warning signs of hypothermia and frostbite include: cold skin that is pale or ashy, feeling very tired, confused or sleepy, weakness, slowed breathing or heart rate, skin that feels hard or waxy, and numbness. According to the CDC, more than half of hypothermia-related deaths were of people over the age of 65.
To stay warm and prevent hypothermia and frostbite, keep indoor temperatures at 65 degrees. When getting dressed, always add one more layer than you think you’ll need (remember: you can always remove it if you get too hot, but you can’t put on what you don’t have). Keep in mind, two or three thinner layers provide more warmth and insulation than one thick layer of clothing. Focus on protecting your hands, feet, head, and neck. Always wear insulating gloves, warm socks, a hat, a thick scarf to pull up over your nose and mouth to protect your lungs, and of course a heavy coat.
Avoid falling or slipping on the ice
This is crucial for older adults who are at a higher risk for suffering major injuries from falls, such as hip and wrist fractures, head trauma and serious lacerations. If the roads and walkways are dangerous, older adults should stay inside until they have been cleared and salted. If you do choose to venture outside, wear shoes with good traction and non-skid soles. If a cane or walker is used, replace the rubber tip(s) before it gets worn smooth to offer more stability. Make an effort to hold onto railings to catch yourself if you do slip. Once back at home, remove outdoor shoes to avoid tracking snow and salt in the house, which can lead to slippery conditions on wood and tile floors.
Fight the winter blues
It’s easy to ‘hibernate’ in your cozy house during the winter months. However, this is the time of year when seniors feel loneliest and most isolated. They are unable to experience the social contact that helps them feel fulfilled. Family members should make a point to check up on their loved ones as often as possible, even if that means a simple daily phone call. Older adults who live alone can also set up a friend or neighbor check-in system where each person looks in or calls on one or two others daily. Whether old or young, everyone should push themselves to stay socially active throughout these cold months. It will help pass the time and is even beneficial to your mental health!
Prepare for power outages
Power outages can be a real pain to go through, especially if weather conditions prevent help from coming for an extended period of time. House temperatures drop, electronics become inoperable, and the food goes bad (if it’s cold enough, you could store your perishable items outside in a secure area).
However, there are ways to prepare for such events. Make sure your necessary items are easy to access both during the day and at night. These items include flashlights, candles, a landline phone to check on others, blankets, and non-perishable food that can be eaten cold. During this time, it’s also important to keep your body temperature up. Designate a safe space you can move around a lot in, such as doing jumping jacks or walking in place, and wear several layers to stay insulated.
Eat a varied diet
Winter weather forces people of all ages to stay indoors compared to the summer months. Staying indoors decreases your skin exposure to the sun, thereby decreasing your body’s production of Vitamin D, also known as the ‘sunshine’ vitamin. Overall consumption of fruits and vegetables dips in the winter as well because seasonal produce becomes less abundant and more expensive. However, it’s important to eat a varied diet in order to decrease your risk of getting sick.
Follow these easy tips to get more fruits and vegetables in your winter diet:
- Look for seasonal produce such as butternut squash, pears, Brussels sprouts, clementines, oranges, sweet potatoes, pomegranate, leeks, kale, collard greens and turnips to name a few.
- Buy frozen, canned or dried produce that was likely harvested during peak growing months and therefore chalk full of vitamins and minerals.
- Add extra vegetables to soups, stews and other dishes to increase the nutritional value.
- Talk to your dietitian or doctor about what foods you should be eating in order to get adequate nutrition and if a supplement is necessary.
Check the car
For seniors who don’t drive often or experience slowed reflexes, driving in winter conditions can be a drastic and scary change. Before the snow starts falling, everyone should have their car’s oil, battery, windshield wipers and fluid, antifreeze and tires checked. There are several items everyone should have packed in their car in case they get stranded as well, including a first aid kit, blankets, extra warm clothes, jumper cables, an ice scraper, shovel, rock salt or cat litter (in case your wheels get stuck), water, non-perishable food, a flashlight, and map. If you plan on driving, remember your cell phone in case you need to call for help and let someone know when and where you’re going.
Prevent fires and carbon monoxide poisoning
Certain methods of home heating are at a greater risk of causing fires and carbon monoxide poisoning if the area is not well ventilated or flammable items are nearby. These include using a fireplace, gas heater, or lantern. Be sure to check the batteries of the carbon monoxide detector or buy an updated one if necessary. If you do choose to use one of these methods to heat your home, open a window even just a crack to let some fresh air in.
To reduce the risk of fire, have chimneys inspected annually and place space heaters at least three feet away from anything that might catch fire (curtains, bedding, furniture, clothing, etc.). Never try to heat your home using a gas stove, charcoal grill, or other stove not made for home heating. Lastly, pay attention to the following warning signs for carbon monoxide poisoning – headache, weakness, nausea or vomiting, dizziness, confusion, blurred vision, loss of consciousness. If you are experiencing symptoms that you think could be related to carbon monoxide poisoning, leave the area immediately and call or go to the emergency room.
Always, be safely somewhere during the winter months. The team at Traditions Senior Living is here to help. Please do not hesitate to contact us for help with your independent or assisted living needs. Stay safe and stay warm!