With a chill in the air and snow blanketing the ground, you can be sure it’s finally winter. Despite the beauty of the season, wintry conditions can pose challenges, especially for older adults. Many seniors experience an increased risk of falls, accidents, and temperature-related illnesses like hypothermia.
Cold Weather Safety Tips for Seniors
Cold temperatures can be uncomfortable for most people, but dangerous for older adults. Because their bodies may have less fat and lose heat faster than younger people, it’s important for seniors to understand how to keep themselves warm during the winter.
What is hypothermia?
First, know the symptoms of hypothermia, a condition that can occur when a person’s body temperature dips below 95 degrees. It can lead to serious problems like a heart attack, kidney damage, and more. Be on the lookout for:
- Cold feet and hands
- Puffy or swollen face
- Pale skin or lips
- Shivering (although this does not always occur)
- Acting unusually sleepy, angry, or confused
Later signs of hypothermia include trouble walking, a slow heartbeat, shallow breathing, or losing consciousness.
If you or a loved one exhibits these symptoms, call 911 right away.
How to prevent hypothermia
The best way to avoid hypothermia is by being prepared. Whether indoors or out, dress in layers to keep warm, and wear a hat, gloves, and thick socks to keep extremities from getting cold
Inside, set your home’s temperature to at least 68-70 degrees. Setting the temperature at even 65 degrees or cooler can set the stage for hypothermia
If you do go outdoors, be prepared. Limit your exposure and dress in plenty of layers. Tell a friend or family member where you’re going, and carry a cell phone so you can call for help if you need it
Finally, if you know a loved one is alone during the winter, check in with them frequently. Make sure their home is at a warm temperature and that they have plenty of supplies.
Take Safety Precautions on the Road
Driving during inclement weather is difficult at any age. However, it can be even more challenging for older adults who drive. Following these guidelines can help you prepare for winter travels:
- Limit driving to essential travel only - Drive only when necessary, especially when road conditions are poor. The Eldercare Locator is a searchable database of transportation services that may be helpful when traveling is difficult.
- Keep an emergency roadside kit in your vehicle - The National Safety Council recommends including the following in your emergency kit:
- Flashlight with extra batteries
- Cell phone charger
- Bottled water
- Non-perishable snacks
- First aid kit
You may find a pre-assembled kit in some auto parts stores or home improvement centers.
- Maintain a roadside assistance membership - Companies like AAA or your auto insurance company offer roadside assistance coverage for all the drivers in your family and may be invaluable in an emergency.
- Service your vehicle regularly - Make sure your vehicle is regularly serviced for oil changes and that your automotive technician checks the tires, windshield wipers, battery, and fluid levels.
How to Prevent Slips and Falls
The ice and snow that winter brings can be hazardous for older adults who may be less steady on their feet. Consider the following ways to prevent falls:
- Keep the pantry and refrigerator well-stocked - Maintain an adequate supply of non-perishable food and other basic necessities for everyday life. Make sure your medication is available and refilled. Be prepared for weather that may prevent you from safely traveling to the store.
- Make sure your winter boots and assistive devices are ready for use - Outdoor footwear should have non-skid rubber soles. You may want to consider adding winter traction cleats to your shoes or boots to ensure safety when walking on snow and ice. Additionally, check to ensure there is an ice grip on the tip of any cane or similar assistive device that will be used outdoors.
- Keep sidewalks and driveways clear - Try to utilize a professional landscaping or snow removal company to shovel and keep your driveway and sidewalks clear.
How to Stay Healthy During the Winter
Staying safe is one thing, but how do you stay healthy when it’s too cold to go outside and too snowy to get exercise? Not to worry; there are plenty of ways to stay feeling your best during these months.
Getting exercise during the winter
Although you might not be feeling motivated to get exercise when it’s cold outside and it gets dark earlier, there are plenty of reasons to continue. Exercise can boost your energy, mood, and metabolism — and depending on what you do, it can be a great opportunity to socialize.
Just remember — always check with your doctor before trying a new exercise routine. They can help you choose a fitness plan that works for you.
- If it’s a warmer day and there’s no snow or ice on the ground, bundle up in several layers, choose shoes with plenty of traction, and take a walk around the block.
- If you usually go to the gym, keep up the good work! Invite a friend to work out with you and enjoy catching up at the same time.
- If you don’t usually go to a gym or the weather prohibits it, try working out at home. Simple exercises or workout videos, combined with your favorite music, make getting physical activity easy and fun.
Avoiding colds, the flu, and other illnesses
Viruses, including the cold and flu, are common during the winter months — primarily because we are spending more time indoors. Common symptoms of both include a sore throat, runny nose, coughing, and headaches. Typically, flu symptoms are more intense and include fatigue and fever/chills.
Individuals who have weakened immune systems or respiratory conditions like asthma are at increased risk for developing serious complications from both colds and flu.
Luckily, there are ways you can protect yourself from getting sick.
- Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.
- Avoid close contact with others who are sick.
- Try to keep your hands, especially unwashed hands, away from your face. Viruses can enter your body through your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Get an annual flu vaccine to help prevent the flu or lessen the severity of the virus.
If you do get sick, it’s best to stay at home, get plenty of rest, and drink lots of fluids. By doing so, you’ll likely lessen your recovery time and also help prevent others from getting sick.
It’s advisable to contact your doctor if your symptoms continue past 10 days or if you’re having difficulty breathing. Your doctor can also recommend treatment and advise a plan of action with signs to watch for if you have any underlying conditions that are worsened by a cold or the flu.
Healthy Foods to Try This Winter
Winter can be a great time to reset your eating habits, because contrary to popular belief, there are plenty of delicious and healthful fruits and vegetables available during this season. Try out one of the following foods and enjoy health benefits in addition to a delicious taste.
- Citrus fruit - For a boost of vitamin C, try some of the sunny citrus that’s at its peak in the winter (like oranges, clementines, and grapefruit).
- Winter squash - Explore varieties like acorn, butternut, or delicata for a boost of vitamin A.
- Leafy greens - Brussels sprouts, collard greens, and kale all provide fiber and folate.
Finally, remember to stay hydrated this season. Drink plenty of water and choose foods with high water content (like some of those mentioned above) to keep yourself feeling your best.
Mental Wellness for the Winter
After the joy and family time of the holidays, the rest of winter can seem to drag on. Older adults frequently experience social isolation, especially when wintry weather conditions limit travel and socialization opportunities. And if you live in a cold climate with little sunlight, you might feel the effects of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
First, know that feeling down during the winter is very common. You certainly aren’t alone in these feelings, and it’s important to check with your doctor if you think you might be experiencing SAD. They can prescribe medication as well as suggest lifestyle changes that could help.
Even if you aren’t coping with social isolation or SAD, following similar tips to keep yourself mentally well during this season can go a long way in making you feel your best.
- Get plenty of exercise. Physical activity can help alleviate stress and make you feel good about yourself.
- Soak up the sun. Low vitamin D levels can lead to feelings of sluggishness in the winter. Sit near a sunny window, take a walk, or talk to your doctor about other ways to get more vitamin D.
- Schedule time with family and friends. You don’t have to go through the season in isolation, and chances are others are looking for time to socialize as well. Make a date to get coffee or lunch, or just meet up to chat.
- Embrace the season for what it is. The Danish concept of hygge — enjoying the season in cozy comfort with loved ones — has become popular in recent years. Take a cue from our European friends and try some of their ideas.
Ready to Experience a Maintenance-Free Lifestyle?
As a resident at The Bristal Assisted Living, you can continue your usual activities and routine during the winter months with less worry about the weather. The maintenance-free lifestyle here relieves you from chores like shoveling snow and driving in wintry weather — and provides you with socialization opportunities and fun.
Here’s a small sampling of some of the seasonal activities our residents have enjoyed:
Discover all The Bristal has to offer – schedule your visit today using the link below.