Cold weather poses safety issues for everyone, yet older adults are more susceptible to falls on slippery sidewalks, other injuries and health issues. To keep yourself or an aging loved one safe this winter season, here’s what you should know.
Cold-Weather Health Concerns for Older Adults
Due to age-related physical changes, older adults are more likely to develop a variety of cold-weather conditions.
You risk experiencing hypothermia when exposed to low temperatures for an extended period of time, as your body begins to lose heat at a faster rate. Anyone can start experiencing symptoms when body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
Yet freezing temperatures are not the only source: People can develop hypothermia even when temperatures sit at 60 degrees. It can become deadly by restricting blood vessel and artery width, which lessens blood flow and can contribute to kidney, liver and heart issues.
Older adults have a higher risk of developing hypothermia due to age-related metabolic changes and decreased temperature sensitivity. To lessen these factors with age, keep your home at 68 to 70 degrees, wear layers and keep active, as movement improves blood flow.
Cold temperatures also invite frostbite, which can cause serious damage that may require amputation. The extremities and face, all areas farthest from your heart, have the highest likelihood of experiencing frostbite.
Individuals with heart and circulation issues also have a higher chance of developing frostbite. When outdoors, be sure to fully cover up. Should your skin start to hurt or take on a reddish appearance, head inside as soon as possible. Skin that’s white, gray or yellow in color or feels hard can indicate frostbite. If you notice these signs, run the area under warm water before seeking medical attention.
Influenza and Pneumonia
Older adults are more susceptible to contracting the flu, due to their gradually weakening immune systems. Their bodies also have a harder time fighting off infection, potentially leading to respiratory complications and pneumonia.
Considering these risks, older adults are recommended to get a flu shot every year, be conscientious of whom they interact with and stay hydrated.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Older adults may experience social isolation during winter, potentially leading to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Symptoms include decreased energy, irritability and changes in sleep patterns. Consider adding a light box to your home and consume more Vitamin D to supplement for a lack of sunlight exposure.
Cold-Weather Safety Issues for Seniors
Due to age-related changes and the weather, older adults are more at risk for the following:
- Shoveling Injuries: Snow shoveling can lead to falls, back issues and a greater amount of stress placed on your heart. Those with poor balance or osteoporosis should avoid shoveling snow and have a family member do the job for them.
- Falls: Winter conditions, including icy sidewalks and pavement, increase fall risks. Seniors with balance and vision issues or decreased muscle mass should take precautions as they head outdoors. To stay safe, have a mobility device with treads for support and take short, careful steps.
- Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: While a risk for everyone, a senior’s reaction to carbon monoxide poisoning mimic symptoms of the flu. To avoid these risks, have your chimney and HVAC inspected and install a carbon monoxide detector in your home.
In further response to these safety issues, also:
- Make sure all steps and walkways are cleared and de-iced before you head outdoors.
- Avoid driving on icy roads, as older adults are at higher risk for accidents. Have any vehicle maintenance done at the start of the season and pack an emergency kit.
- Prepare for winter storms with a backup source of power, light and non-perishables.
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