Older adults should stay safe and prepared for the winter weather as colder temperatures approach. Cold weather can pose health risks for older adults, including hypothermia, falls on slippery surfaces, and seasonal depression. To help you stay safe and well this winter, we’ve put together a list of six essential winter safety tips for older adults.
Dressing for the Weather
Dressing appropriately for colder weather is critical to staying warm and protected in colder climates. When venturing outside, layer your clothing, opt for a tightly woven and wind-resistant coat, and wear hats, mittens, scarves, and waterproof boots. Failure to follow these cold weather safety precautions can expose parts of your body, increasing the risk of frostbite and hypothermia.
Frostbite occurs when frigid temperatures damage the skin, potentially affecting the underlying bone. Look for warning signs such as white, ashy, or grayish-yellow skin with a waxy texture and numbness. Hypothermia, on the other hand, is a significant drop in body temperature due to prolonged exposure to cold conditions. Common signs include pale or ashy skin, tiredness, confusion, weakness, and slowed breathing. If you or one of your loved ones experience these symptoms, seek warmth immediately.
Avoid Slipping on Ice
During winter, icy surfaces can be incredibly hazardous for older adults, increasing the likelihood of slips and falls. To minimize this falling risk, you should readily have rock salt or sand available. Sprinkle these substances on icy walkways, driveways, and steps to improve traction and melt the ice. Promptly applying these materials after a snowfall or freezing rain prevents ice formation.
Older adults should wear shoes with good traction and non-skid soles to prevent such accidents and stay indoors until the roads are clear. Additionally, older adults should replace worn cane tips to make walking safer and remove their shoes upon entering indoors to avoid bringing in snow and ice that could create slippery conditions.
Managing Seasonal Depression
The shorter days and reduced sun exposure during winter can lead to seasonal affective disorder (SAD). To take charge of your mental health:
- Engage in mild to moderate activities that you enjoy.
- Make time for yourself and indulge in “wind-down” moments.
- Consider video chatting with loved ones to maintain social connections.
- Hire a Companion to come over and drink a cup of coffee together or have a good conversation.
- If you find it challenging to cope with seasonal depression, reach out to your primary care provider or mental health counselor for guidance.
Eating a Well-Balanced Diet
The colder temperatures and reduced daylight make obtaining sufficient vitamin D from the sun challenging. Incorporate nutrient-rich foods into your diet to support bone health and compensate for this deficiency.
Consider adding the following to your meals:
- Calcium: Almonds, Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt), green leafy vegetables, salmon, and sardines.
- Vitamin D: Cheese, egg yolks, fortified cereals and milk, tuna, salmon, and mackerel.
If you have questions about maintaining a well-balanced diet, consult your primary care provider for assistance in creating a suitable meal plan. They may also recommend a multivitamin to supplement your nutritional needs.
Winterizing Your Home
Preparing your home for winter is essential, especially during winter when staying home is generally safer. The CDC provides comprehensive guidelines for winterizing your home, including:
- Installing weather stripping, insulation, and storm windows.
- Insulating water lines along exterior walls.
- Cleaning out gutters and repairing roof leaks.
- Have your heating system professionally serviced to ensure cleanliness, proper functionality, and ventilation.
- Regularly inspecting and cleaning fireplaces and chimneys.
- Ensuring you have a safe alternative heating source and alternate fuels available.
Following these guidelines will help create a safe and cozy environment during the winter season.
Staying Safe on the Road
Winter driving can pose hazards for everyone, particularly older individuals. They may not drive as frequently or have the same reflexes as before. Winter weather can lead to hazardous road conditions, requiring additional driving precautions. To ensure your safety on the road, take the time to winterize your vehicle by checking and servicing the antifreeze, tires, windshield wipers, and radiator.
If you drive in inclement weather, ensure your gas tank is full, and carry a charged cell phone for emergency communication. Additionally, stock your car with essential supplies such as a first aid kit, blanket, jumper cables, windshield scraper, and flashlight. Whenever possible, avoid driving on snowy or icy roads.
Stay Prepared for the Season Ahead
Following these winter safety tips will prepare you for the season ahead. Remember to dress appropriately for the weather, prioritize your mental health, maintain a nutritious diet, and winterize your home and car. While staying warm indoors is ideal, try to seize opportunities for outdoor walks when the weather permits.
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