The winter season provides us with many beautiful scenes, snow-covered trees, landscapes and frozen ponds, but when winter weather strikes, it can limit our mobility in a big way. Winter poses many safety risks for all ages but especially for seniors. By following some simple precautions, you can stay safe and warm this time of year.
As we age our fear of falling increases, and for good reason. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), falls are the leading cause of injuries among older adults. Icy and snowy conditions can make getting around dangerous, but before you decide to hibernate, here are some fall-prevention tips for winter:
- Ask or hire someone to maintain your walkway and driveway. Make sure all steps leading to your residence are in good repair and are free of icy build-up.
- Wear boots or shoes with good tread to help you keep traction as you walk.
- If you use a cane, consider replacing its tip with an ice pick-like attachment to maintain your stability should you encounter an icy patch outside.
- Check the lighting in your entrance ways. With shorter daylight hours, more of your activities may be occurring in the dark. Lighting with timers or sensors on your outdoor fixtures become important.
Since you are likely to be less active this time of year than you are in warm weather, it is important to pay attention to your diet and hydration levels. Make sure to take nutritional supplements your doctor has prescribed. Due to less exposure to sunlight, you may experience a Vitamin D deficiency. You can counteract this lack by consuming foods rich in Vitamin D, such as milk, grains, tuna or salmon.
We tend to drink more water in hot weather when we perspire, but we need to stay hydrated all year round. Keep a pitcher of fresh water handy throughout the day. Not only will it serve as a reminder to drink more fluids, but it also is a good way to keep track of much you are drinking.
Bitter cold temperatures can lead to hypothermia, a serious condition that occurs when the body’s core temperature drops to below 95 degrees. In severe hypothermia, the body temperature falls to 86 degrees or lower. Seniors are more at risk for hypothermia because their response to cold can be diminished by illnesses or diseases, and by some medications that may include over-the-counter cold remedies.
Additionally, as we age, we tend to become less active and we generate less body heat as a result. According to the CDC, more than 50 percent of hypothermia-related deaths occur in people over the age of 65. Warning signs of hypothermia include:
- Excessive shivering
- Cold pale skin
- Feelings of confusion or exhaustion
- Slowed respiration or heart rate.
Keep warm and dry! Don’t let your indoor temperature go below 65 degrees. Dress in several layers for added warmth. Pay special attention to your extremities by wearing warm socks, gloves and a hat when you go outdoors. In extreme temperatures, cover all exposed skin and place a scarf over your face and mouth. Remove wet clothing as soon as you can after returning home.
On the road
Winter driving can be hazardous for all of us. Before venturing out in your car, take it to your service technician for “winterizing.” This service includes having the tires, antifreeze, windshield fluid and blades checked and replaced if necessary. Stock your vehicle with a first aid kit and emergency supplies, including: blankets, extra warm clothes, car battery booster cables, windshield scraper, small shovel, rock salt, a bag of sand or cat litter, drinking water, dried foods, flashlight and flares.
Program emergency contact numbers into your cell phone. If you live alone, consider an emergency-response system. These devices are worn around your neck or wrist at all times and can summon help when you need it most. They can provide valuable peace of mind for both you and your loved ones.
Finally, trust your instincts. It’s hard to say no to an invitation or a gathering that you have looked forward to attending, but your safety is more important. If the weather is unusually severe, it may be better to skip the event. On the other hand, don’t let normal wintry weather keep you indoors unnecessarily. By following some simple precautions, you can enjoy this time of year just as much as you always have.