20 Winter Safety Tips for Older Adults
Winter can be one of the most beautiful seasons of the year, but it can also be one of the most dangerous. This is especially true for adults over the age of 65, who are at higher risk for injuries and illnesses during the cold winter months. Ice and snow increase the risk of serious injury from falling. Cold temperatures can trigger asthma symptoms, intensify bacterial and viral infections, or even lead to hypothermia and frostbite. Dark skies and early sunsets can make it difficult to see ice or other obstacles in the path.
Clearly, safety is a priority in the winter. Fortunately, there are several common sense and not-so-obvious ways for everyone to stay safe this winter.
20 Tips for Staying Safe this Winter
- Look for ways to reduce falls
Falls are a major safety issue with more than one out of four people over the age of 65 falling each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These falls can result in serious injuries, such as hip and wrist fractures, head trauma and cuts and lacerations. In fact, one out of five falls causes serious injury.
To reduce falls in the winter, avoid walking on snow-covered or icy pathways. Hold onto handrails when climbing or descending stairs, indoors and outside. Use canes and other assistive devices as directed. Wear non-skid footwear. Remove clutter from pathways.
- Get more exercise
Anyone can slip and fall on the ice and snow, but adults 65 and up are particularly prone to falling due to certain physiological changes that occur as we grow older. For example, some individuals may walk with an unsteady gate, which can pose a problem even when walking indoors. Aging can also bring about weaker muscles, especially for adults who exercise less during winter months, and this muscle weakness can increase the risk for falls.
To reduce the risk of falls, try exercising more. Regular workouts build strong muscles and can improve balance and gait. If your regular routine includes walking or exercising outside during the warmer months, try finding new ways to
- Consult with a doctor
Certain age-related changes can put adults at greater risk of falls in the winter. As people age, they begin to lose sensation in their feet, which can affect balance and lead to falls. People with certain conditions, such as diabetes, poor circulation or arthritis are more apt to lose sensation. Taking certain medications can cause dizziness, drowsiness or other effects that increase the risk of falling.
Consult with a doctor to find out which conditions and treatments may increase the risk of falls, especially in the winter, and discuss ways to reduce those risks. Ask if physical therapy might increase muscle strength, for example, or find out if a different prescription presents a lower risk of falling.
- Get the car serviced
Winter driving is tough for anyone, but since reflexes tend to slow with age, driving in the ice and snow may be especially difficult for adults over the age of 65. Minor auto problems, such as bald tires or an old car battery, can make driving even more hazardous.
Take the car in for routine service before winter weather strikes. Make sure memberships to AAA or other insurance and roadside assistance policies are up-to-date. Look into alternative transportation, such as catching a ride with a friend or using scheduled transportation as provided by the state or a living community.
- Turn on the lights
Use bright lights inside and outdoors to reduce the risk of trips and falls. Poorly lit hallways and walkways are difficult to navigate, and it can be hard to see icy spots on dimly light sidewalks and driveways.
- Plan activities according to weather
Keep abreast of the weather forecast and, whenever possible, plan your outdoor activities accordingly. Make a trip to the store before bad weather strikes, for example, and be ready to reschedule any appointments that may occur during a bad winter storm. Stay inside until the sidewalks and roads are clear and safe to navigate.
- Keep furnaces in top running order
Gas furnaces may release carbon monoxide throughout a home, according to the Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration Institute (AHRI). Furnaces that run efficiently may produce small amounts of carbon monoxide, while a dirty furnace that runs poorly can produce deadly amounts of this noxious gas. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause disorientation, confusion, flu-like symptoms and even death.
Have your furnace serviced regularly by a certified technician. During servicing, the technician will check for cracks that allow the carbon monoxide to escape the furnace’s combustion chamber. Never operate the furnace without putting the front panel door in place. Keep the burner area clean.
- Avoid using space heaters
Space heaters can cause fires, which can be deadly. Space heaters account for about two out of every five home fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and for four out of five home heating deaths. The NFPA also notes that 30% of all people who die in a home fire are over the age of 65.
Those who choose to use this form of heating should place space heaters at least 3 feet away from anything that might catch fire, such as bedding, furniture and curtains and look for options with automatic shut off or timer features.
- Use candles safely, if at all
Most fires associated with candles occur in December, according to NFPA. Christmas, New Year’s Day and New Year’s Eve are the top three days for home candle fires. More than 8,000 home candle fires are reported each year.
To reduce the risk of home candle fires, never leave a burning candle unattended. Snuff candles immediately after use. Keep burning candles at least 3 feet away from furniture, curtains and other combustible materials.
Perhaps the best way to avoid home candle fires is to avoid using candles altogether.
- Install smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors
Install a smoke alarm and battery-operated carbon monoxide detector in any area where fireplaces, kerosene heaters or wood stoves are in use. The NFPA suggests putting smoke alarms in each bedroom, outside each sleeping area and on each level of the home. Install a carbon monoxide detector on each floor of the dwelling.
- Keep a fire extinguisher handy
The NFPA says that heating is the main cause of home fires, and that most home fires break out in the months of December, January and February.
Keep a fire extinguisher handy. There are several types of fire extinguishers, and each works on a different type of fire. Class A fire extinguishers work on fires involving solids, such as wood, textiles or paper. Class B extinguishers work on flammable liquids, such as oil or petrol. Class C fires involve gas. Dry chemical fire extinguishers work on Class A, B and C fires.
- Hire someone to shovel your sidewalk and driveway
Shoveling snow increases the risk for heart attacks in people who already have heart disease, according to Harvard Medical School. The deeper the snow, the greater the risk while shoveling. Hire someone to do the shoveling for you or take advantage of living in an assisted living community like The Brielle that offers free shoveling and plowing.
- Wear warm boots with good traction
Invest in a pair of warm winter boots that have treads that grip the surface. Look for shoes and boots featuring rubber soles with patterned designs for traction and quality linings to keep feet warm and dry. Opt for boots with little to no heel, as high-heeled boots put unnecessary pressure on the balls of the feet and can lead to instability and falls.
- Avoid Hypothermia
The cold temperatures of winter also pose a safety problem for adults over the age of 65. When the temperatures drop, the risk for hypothermia rises. Hypothermia is a serious condition in which a person’s body temperature drops to 95 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Older adults are at special risk for hypothermia because certain chronic medical conditions and medications, including over-the-counter cold remedies, can diminish their bodies’ response to cold temperatures. Someone with hypothermia may have slowed or slurred speech, confusion or sleepiness, slow reactions, shivering, poor control over body movements, stiffness in the arms and legs or a weak pulse.
Adults can reduce their risk of hypothermia by staying indoors and wearing a warm coat, hat and gloves; carrying a fully charged cell phone while outdoors can also improve safety. Avoid hypothermia indoors by setting the thermostat to 66 degrees or higher, wearing warm clothing and covering up with a blanket.
- Watch out for frostbite
Frostbite happens when exposure to cold temperatures or water damages body tissues. Adults over 65 are at greater risk for this serious condition, which typically affects tissues in a person’s fingers, toes, face and ears. Symptoms of frostbite include feelings of numbness or “pins and needles,” hardening of the skin, swelling, blisters and pain in the affected area. Mild frostbite causes redness of the skin, while more severe frostbite causes a pale or waxy color or feel to the skin.
Adults can reduce their risk of frostbite by wearing layers of windproof and waterproof clothing, along with hats, gloves and scarves when exposed to cold temperatures. Boots and clothing should be loose-fitting as tight clothing can cause poor circulation.
- Get a flu shot
Harvard Medical School notes that influenza viruses spread more easily in the cooler temperatures and lower humidity of winter and the CDC says that people 65 and older are at greater risk of complications associated with the flu. Getting a flu vaccine every year is the best protection against influenza, but covering coughs, washing hands and avoiding crowded areas can help keep someone safe against the flu.
- Stock up the pantry and medicine cabinet
Keep enough food, water, medicine and other supplies to last five to seven days, especially when a winter storm approaches.
- Create an emergency kit
Emergencies, such as power outages, can happen during winter. Create an emergency kit that contains batteries, a flashlight, a whistle, water, non-perishable foods, pet food (if you have a furry friend), blankets, hats and gloves.
- Keep a fully charged cell phone handy at all times
A cell phone can be a lifesaver to any adult during the winter. Be sure to enter emergency numbers into the contact list to make it faster and easier to get help in the event that you need it.
- Move to an assisted living community
Top-notch assisted living communities provide a variety of services and amenities that help improve the safety and overall well-being of the people who live there. Workers clear sidewalks and driveways, so residents never have to pick up a snow shovel, and keep entranceways clear from snow or mud tracked in from the outdoors.
Some communities, like The Brielle at Seaview, feature libraries, pubs, parlors, gyms, movie rooms, beauty salons and barbershops, private dining rooms and other amenities and services on campus, so residents never have to leave the community during inclement weather. These assisted living communities may also provide scheduled transportation for those occasions when residents do have to travel out into winter weather.
For more information about safe, convenient and premier senior living, contact us at the The Brielle today! Our friendly staff can offer expert tips and assistance for staying safe throughout the winter season and provide additional details about the elevated lifestyle you can expect at our assisted living community in Staten Island.