Cold weather safety for older adults
While you prepare for freezing temperatures, snow and ice at home with your family, don’t forget about the elderly people in your life, whether you’ve got neighbors who are seniors or grandma and grandpa who live around the corner.
“Seniors are at risk for more cold-related health issues and their advanced age makes it more difficult for them to deal with winter weather,” says Dr. Joyce Morano, an internist at LIFE Geisinger in Scranton.
Here are a few hazards that the seniors in your life are especially prone to:
1. Freezing temperatures
When you start feeling cold during the winter, you may crank up your heat or layer on another hoodie to warm up. But for elderly loved ones, it’s not quite so simple.
“Seniors lose body heat much faster than younger adults, which puts them at greater risk for hypothermia,” says Dr. Morano.
Make sure your elderly loved ones keep their thermostat at 68 degrees or higher and close off rooms to keep heating costs lower. Recommend that they dress in layers to keep warm, and limit the amount of time spent outside.
Check on your neighbors and loved ones often to make sure they are warm enough. If their hands and feet are cold, they are pale and shivering or have slow, shallow breathing, call 911, as these are early signs of hypothermia.
2. Ice and snow
Slipping on ice at any age can present a number of injuries, but injuries when you’re over 60 tend to be more serious. Hip fractures are more common for seniors because bones begin to weaken with aging. Oftentimes, hip fractures require surgery and recovery time of up to a year.
To prevent falls during winter, make sure the elderly in your life have the right shoes or boots with tread to help them grip the ground.
“You should also offer to help them shovel their sidewalks and driveways or salt areas where there may be ice,” notes Dr. Morano.
3. Carbon monoxide poisoning
Every home has some risk for carbon monoxide poisoning during the winter, but elderly neighbors who live by themselves are often more likely to have this occur. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that is produced by burning wood or a fuel like propane or from a poorly functioning heating system. Your loved ones may try to keep warm by using a malfunctioning fireplace or gas heater in an enclosed space.
If you visit with elderly loved ones and notice signs like confusion, dizziness or a dull headache, get them into fresh air immediately and call 911.
4. Seasonal affective disorder
If the older people in your life are spending more time inside this winter to stay warm and safe, they may be more susceptible to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is caused by decreased sunlight.
To combat this, make sure the blinds and curtains are open during the day to allow sunlight in. You can also recommend a short walk outside during the day if the conditions are safe.
5. The flu
For adults, the flu is usually an inconvenience that lasts a week or two. But for seniors, the flu can be life threatening. People over 65 are at greater risk for complications related to the flu, including death.
The first, and best, line of defense against the flu is to get a flu shot.
“Even in January, it’s not too late to get the flu shot if you are a senior. Your doctor may recommend one of two vaccines just for the elderly that create a strong immune response,” says Dr. Morano. “You should also ensure that you’re up-to-date on your pneumococcal vaccines, which prevent pneumococcal pneumonia, a serious complication of the flu.”
Beyond the vaccines, it’s important for seniors to wash their hands frequently and stay away from others who are sick.
If an elderly loved one develops symptoms of the flu, urge them to call their doctor immediately to avoid complications.
LIFE Geisinger offers special services to help seniors live more independently. Interested in learning more about how LIFE Geisinger can help you, a friend or a loved one live independently? Visit us here.