Winter safety can be challenging for able bodied people, so it isn’t a surprise that it can be especially challenging for the elderly.  Cold Temperatures, snow, ice and wind all become hazards for seniors.  Whether it’s a fall on an icy sidewalk, or the increased of isolation cold winter months, there are many dangers to the senior community.

Snow and ice accumulating on sidewalks or parking lots makes it easy for seniors to slip and fall.  Many times, these falls result in serious injuries such as a fractures or lacerations.  Proper shoes or boots with good tread that provide stability and traction are a must for seniors that are outside in winter conditions.  Once back inside, footwear should be left near the door, so the melting snow is not tracked into the home, leaving water on floors which could cause a fall due to slick wet floors.  Cane users should be sure to replace the rubber tip of their cane before it is too worn and check it often in winter months.

Cold temperatures can lead to frostbite and hypothermia. Older adults are more susceptible to hypothermia than younger adults.  Accordingly, household temperatures should be maintained at 65 degrees or higher.  Seniors going outside in the cold should dress in layers, which includes the use of a heavy coat, hat, gloves, and warm socks.  Be sure to cover all areas of exposed skin, including a scarf to cover your mouth to minimize the impact of cold air.  Hypothermia is a serious condition and should not be taken lightly.  Signs of hypothermia include cold pale ashy skin, confusion, weakness, slowed breathing or slowed heart rate.  Call 911 immediately if you suspect someone is suffering from hypothermia.

For seniors that drive, it is essential to prepare their car for the elements.  Check the tires, battery and wipers, add window washer fluid if needed, and prepare for an emergency with blankets, a cellphone and flares.  Wintertime driving is difficult for even the most seasoned driver, but a senior with slowed reflexes may face additional challenges.  If possible, consider a vehicle with traction control, anti-lock brakes and all wheel or front wheel drive.  Many times, communities offer shuttle services for doctor appointments or pharmacy, so reach out for help if seniors feel unsafe to drive.

During the winter months, it is common to use the fireplace or other heating sources, such as natural gas or kerosene space heaters. Unless fireplaces, wood and gas stoves, and gas appliances are properly vented, cleaned, and used, they can leak dangerous amounts of carbon monoxide—a deadly gas that you cannot see or smell. Kerosene and electric space heaters can be fire hazards.  Place smoke detectors and battery-operated carbon monoxide detectors as recommended by the owner’s manual and be sure to regularly test them and change the batteries.  If you use a space heater, make sure they are at least 3 feet away from anything that might catch fire, such as curtains, bedding and furniture, or further if the owner’s manual suggests. Never try to heat your home using a gas stove, charcoal grill, or other stove not made for home heating as fatal consequences could result.

With these winter time challenges many times it is safer to stay home. However, this can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation.  This, in addition to the reduction in sunlight, can increase the incidence of winter depression.  Be sure to check in with friends and neighbors with a phone call or short visit.  If you feel any other symptoms of depression, talk your health care provider about your concerns.  You may even wish to create a network of friends to look out for elderly loved ones and neighbors that are at risk in the winter months.

DISCLAIMER:  The information contained in this article is intended solely for the general information for the reader and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnose health problems or suggest any treatment. It is not a substitute for medical care provided by a licensed and qualified health professional and does not create a physician-patient or pharmacist-patient relationship. Please consult your health care provider for any personal medical advice.