Winter Safety Tips for Older Adults

Published: October 31, 2016

 

When the temperature drops, older adults run a higher risk of health problems and injuries related to the weather, including hypothermia, frostbite and falls in ice and snow. Here are a few precautions everyone should take this time of year, especially older adults.

Hypothermia

Hypothermia occurs when your body temperature drops to a dangerous level. Your body temperature can drop when you are out in the cold for an extended time because it begins to lose heat quickly. Older adults are at an increased risk of hypothermia due to changes that happen to your body with aging.

Warning signs include cold skin that is pale or ashy; feeling very tired, confused and sleepy; feeling weak; problems walking; slowed breathing or heart rate. Shivering is not a reliable warning sign because older people tend to shiver less or not at all when their body temperature drops.

Precautions to take:

  • Stay indoors (or don’t stay out for very long)
  • Keep indoor temperature at 65 degrees or warmer
  • Stay dry because wet clothing chills your body more quickly
  • Dress smart – protect your lungs from cold air. Dress in layers. Wearing two or three thinner layers of loose fitting clothing is warmer than a single layer of thick clothing. Think about getting out your theramals!

Essential winter wear includes hats, gloves or preferably mittens, winter coat, boots and a scarf to cover your mouth or nose.

Frostbite

Frostbite occurs when your body experiences damage to the skin that can go all the way down to the bone. Not surprisingly, extreme cold can cause frostbite. It is most likely to occur in body parts farthest away from the heart. Common places include the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers and toes. In severe cases, frostbite can result in loss of limbs. People with heart disease and other circulation problems are at a higher risk.

Cover Up! All parts of your body should be covered when you go out in the cold. If your skin turns red or dark or starts hurting, go inside right away.

Warning signs include skin that is white or ashy or grayish-yellow; skin that feels hard or waxy; numbness.

If frostbite occurs run the affected area under warm (not hot) water.

Injuries While Shoveling Snow

It’s one of the evils of winter – snow shoveling. Make sure that if you choose to shovel, you take some precautions. Remember, when it’s cold outside, your heart works double-time to keep you warm. Strenuous activities like shoveling snow may put too much strain on your heart, especially if you have heart disease. Shoveling can also be dangerous if you have problems with balance or have osteoporosis.

Ask your healthcare provider whether shoveling or other wok in the snow is safe for you.

It is easy to slip and fall in the winter, especially in icy or snowy conditions. Take the following precautions:

  • Make sure steps and walkways are clear before you walk. Be especially careful of you see wet pavement that could be iced over.
  • Clear away snow and salt your walkways at home, or hire someone to do it.
  • Wear boots with non-skid soles to prevent you from slipping.
  • If you use a cane, replace the rubber tip before it is worn smooth. Consider an ice pick-like attachment that fits onto the end of a cane for additional traction.
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