Cold Weather Safety Tips for the Elderly

Definition

During the winter season, exposure to cold weather can cause our body temperature to drop below normal, potentially resulting in serious health conditions. Unfortunately, seniors may not always be aware of their dropping body temperature. Precautions should be made to prevent common cold-weather dangers that many seniors face.  

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Introduction

When the temperature drops, seniors are at a higher risk of developing health issues and injuries related to the cold weather, such as frostbite, hypothermia and falls as a result of the snow and ice. Precautions should be made so that these types of events do not occur. 

Falls that occur on slippery walkways and sidewalks may result in a variety of additional injuries and illnesses that could prove to be challenging and life-changing. Making minimal changes can help to keep seniors safe during the winter. The following are some tips and resources to help minimize and prevent common cold-weather dangers the elderly population may face.

Cold Weather Tips

1. Increase the indoor temperature

A senior that lives in a cold house or apartment may be at risk of developing hypothermia. In reality, it is even possible for seniors in nursing homes and group facilities to develop hypothermia if their rooms are not kept warm enough. As seniors age, they will experience a decrease in circulation. Their blood vessel walls will also lose their elasticity, and the layers of fat under their skin will also begin to decrease. 

For these reasons, seniors often find it difficult to conserve body heat and may encounter problems trying to keep warm. To err on the side of caution, seniors should dress warmly even while indoors and should not permit the indoor temperature drop below 65°F.

2. Dress accordingly

It is possible that even the mildest winter could cause a senior to experience a significant drop in body temperature. To combat this, seniors and caretakers should be sure to check the weather forecast each day. On very cold days, seniors should try to stay inside. If it is necessary to go out, they should be sure to wear warm clothing and also be mindful not to stay out in the cold for extended periods of time. 

To help retain heat, seniors should dress in loose layers of clothing. Layers allow air to become trapped, helping to retain body heat. Hats and scarves should also be utilized since most of the body’s heat is released from the head and neck when left uncovered. Waterproof coats and jackets should be worn if it is snowing. If clothing is damp or wet, it should be changed immediately.

3. Talk to the doctor

Some illnesses may cause it to be harder for a senior to stay warm. Seniors with thyroid issues, for example, may find it challenging to maintain a normal body temperature. Seniors who have diabetes may experience a lower body temperature due to their body’s inability to keep their blood flow regulated. Arthritis and Parkinson's disease can make it difficult for seniors to dress properly for the cold weather. Seniors who live with memory loss may often go outside without the proper clothing. 

Seniors should talk with their doctors about their health issues and become aware of the options that are available to prevent cold weather injuries. Seniors should also talk with their doctors to determine if the medicines they take could adversely affect the body’s ability to retain heat. 

4. Slip and fall-proofing in and around the home

Unfortunately, studies have shown that there is a direct connection between cold weather and slips and falls in the elderly. Slip and falls on snow and ice can cause a major threat to a senior’s health. Injuries sustained could have dire consequences for seniors. To prevent falls, seniors should have solid shoes that have non-skid soles. Well-worn cane tips should be replaced, as an added level of slip-proof security. 

Seniors may inadvertently track snow and ice inside their homes, causing falls. To prevent such falls, shoes should be taken off as soon as they return indoors. Finally, seniors should use a doormat to prevent moisture from accumulating on floors. 

Conclusion

As seniors age, they are at an increased risk of experiencing injuries from winter weather. It is important that winter safety measures for seniors be followed and not be taken lightly. Winter is often considered one of the most challenging seasons for seniors, especially those who may suffer with other health conditions. 

Studies have shown that the chances of a senior suffering a fall in the winter increases after the age of 65. This percentage of falls increases significantly after the age of 75. It may be impossible to prevent all cold weather mishaps; however, when precautions and tips are followed, many serious injuries may be prevented.  

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