Winter Safety for Seniors

Winter safety is important for everyone, but seniors have a higher risk of injury and illness when cold weather arrives. Planning ahead can help you avoid some common issues that seniors face during snowy weather. You can use these tips to learn more about how to enjoy the season safely.

Dress For the Weather

Seniors over 65 have less muscle mass, making it more difficult to stay warm in very cold weather. If you plan on going outside, dress in comfortable layers and wear a hat, scarf and gloves. Opt for breathable fabrics, such as cotton, nearest your skin, and wear a heavy coat that is wind-resistant and waterproof.

Wool sweaters are an excellent layering option for winter. The material retains heat even when it is damp, and modern wool blends are warm without feeling itchy. You should also wear winter-friendly footwear that has stabilizing cleats to help prevent falls on slick surfaces. Opt for boots with stabilizers to keep your feet warm and dry during snowy weather.

Skip the Driveway

Seniors with an increased fall risk, or increased risk of broken bones, should consider getting help with outdoor tasks. Taking a fall onto slippery, icy concrete can cause serious health issues, such as broken bones and concussions. Hiring someone to shovel your drive may not be the cheapest option, but it is well worth the investment to avoid a potentially dangerous fall. A history of heart disease is also important to consider before going out to shovel snow.

Shovelling the driveway and sidewalk is labor-intensive work that can increase your heart rate significantly, but the cold weather helps prevent sweating and fatigue. The combination of reduced fatigue and increased heart rate can trigger heart attack in some adults. Skip the shovelling if you have heart disease, even if you simply have to wait until the snow melts for your driveway to clear.

Heating Safety

The risk of carbon monoxide poisoning increases during winter, especially in homes with gas, propane or wood-powered heat sources. Install a carbon monoxide detector on every level of your home, and replace the batteries annually to maintain good working order. If the alarm goes off, do not assume it is a faulty signal. Open the windows and doors, and immediately go to a neighbors house to call for help. Emergency services can help you determine whether it is safe to go back to your home.

Preventing Frostbite and Hypothermia

Winter also brings an increased risk of hypothermia and frostbite. The symptoms of frostbite include numb, discolored skin that feels hard to the touch. The discoloration can be white to yellow-gray and usually appears on exposed skin first. Hypothermia is initially characterized by a slowed heart rate, confusion, trouble walking and ashy or pale skin.

To prevent frostbite and hypothermia, stay indoors when temperatures are very cold, and dress in warm layers if you need to go outside. Take breaks to go inside and warm up when spending longer periods of time outdoors. If you suspect you have frostbite or hypothermia, move to a warm space indoors and seek immediate medical care.

Driving Safety

To safely travel during winter, switch to winter tires that suit your local weather, and have a tune up before the season begins. Regular vehicle maintenance can prevent breakdowns that leave you stranded. An emergency supply kit is essential for winter travel, whether you are going across town or to another state. The kit should contain blankets, emergency flares, a mobile phone, a mobile phone car charger, food, water and a first aid kit.

Store these items in the trunk along with clean clothes for each member of the family. If possible, tell someone when you need to drive in snowy weather. Include information about when you plan to return, and set up a time to call your contact before leaving home. This allows your contact to send help if necessary, preventing you from being stranded in dangerously cold winter weather for longer than necessary.

Keep Your House Warm

Keeping your home warm enough prevents hypothermia and frostbite, but also promotes healthy body function if you have concerns like diabetes or thyroid disease. To conserve on heating costs, close the doors to unused rooms, or hang curtains over doorways to unused areas of the home. Use thick curtains or drapes to prevent heat loss around windows, and use a door cozy to prevent heat from escaping through gaps under your door.

Wear layered clothing, socks and shoes or slippers to stay warm on very cold days. Eating enough also helps you stay warmer during the winter months. Avoid foods and beverages that contain caffeine and alcohol. Alcohol can cause you to feel warmer, increasing the risk of conditions like frostbite.

Staying Warm Overnight

To stay warm at night, try wearing long underwear with your regular nightwear. If you want to use a space heater for extra warmth at night, opt for a radiator-type heater that doesn’t have any exposed coils. If you can see a red glow in the space heater, the risk of a house fire increases.

Eating a higher calorie snack, such as cheese or peanut butter, right before bed can help supply your body with the extra energy you need to stay warm on cooler nights. Winter safety is particularly important for seniors living alone. Arrange to contact someone nearby on a regular basis during the winter months.

A nearby neighbor, for instance, can check in during power outages to ensure your backup heat source is working properly. You should also make arrangements to go somewhere warm during power outage if you don’t have a working heat source without electric. With a strategy in place for winter safety, you stay warm and healthy through the end of the season.