Planning and preparing for the winter months is one of the best ways to prevent an injury or illness. Senior citizens are at increased risk for a variety of problems ranging from depression to hypothermia, slip and fall accidents or vitamin D deficiency. As the new year begins, these tips can help keep you and the senior you love safe.
Avoid Winter Slip and Fall Accidents
The ice and snow that winter brings can be especially hazardous for older adults who may be a little less steady on their feet. A few of the best ways to prevent falls include:
• Keep the pantry and refrigerator well-stocked and maintain an adequate supply of medications and other basic necessities on hand. Being prepared will help keep you and your senior family member from needing to leave home when winter weather becomes severe.
• Make certain winter boots and assistive devices are in good shape. There should be an ice grip on the tip of any cane that will be used outdoors during the winter months. Also be sure that outdoor footwear has rubber, non-skid soles. You might want to consider adding winter traction cleats to shoes or boots to make walking safer on snow and ice.
• Keep sidewalks and driveways free of snow and ice. Try to utilize the services of a professional landscape company to decrease the odds of a fall. If finances don’t allow for that expenditure, call the local agency on aging. They may have resources available to help.
Maintain Physical and Mental Health
Because winter often makes it difficult to get outside to enjoy a daily walk or to spend time with family and friends, senior citizens and their caregivers are more prone to physical and mental health problems than younger adults. Taking a few extra steps can help protect your health this winter.
• According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), senior citizens are at greater risk for hypothermia during cold, winter months. More than half of the hypothermia-related deaths each year are older adults. Dressing in layers can help you stay warmer. Loose-fitting clothing made of natural fabrics is best. Always wear a hat and mittens when outdoors in the winter. Thick, cotton socks also help to keep feet dry and warm.
• Older adults are also more susceptible to the flu. Most years it peaks between December and February. Taking precautions can help you avoid being bitten by the bug. If you haven’t yet done so, get an influenza vaccine. Eating a balanced diet and sleeping eight hours a night can help keep your immune system healthy and strong to fight off infections.
• Vitamin D deficiencies are more common in older adults who live in northern climates during the winter. Consult with your primary care physician or your senior loved one’s to see if taking a vitamin D and calcium supplement is recommended.
• Senior citizens who live alone may struggle to feel connected during winter months when they might be stuck indoors. Social isolation is a known health risk for older adults. Video chat technology can be a great way for families to talk “face-to-face” when the winter winds blow. Click here for more ideas how to keep a senior loved one engaged.
Take Safety Precautions on the Road
Driving during inclement weather is difficult at any age. For older adults, however, chronic health conditions make it doubly so. These tips can help you prepare for winter:
• Limit driving when the roads are bad or the temperature is low. It might mean exploring other options for transportation during the winter months. Eldercare Locator has a database of transportation options you can search to find a service near you or your aging loved one.
• Create an emergency roadside kit for each of your family’s vehicles. At a minimum, the Department of Motor Vehicles recommends including a blanket, flashlight with extra batteries, charger for your cell phone, bottled water, granola bars, a first aid kit and flares. Some auto parts stores and home improvement centers sell pre-assembled kits.
• Prepare for winter by having an AAA membership that covers all of the drivers in your family. It can be invaluable if you need to be towed or have another roadside emergency.
• Have your vehicles inspected for winter safety. Make sure the repair shop checks the tires, windshield wipers, battery and fluids.
To help older adults and their family caregivers learn more, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) developed Winter Storms and Extreme Cold. It contains resources that range from how to develop a family communication plan to how to shut off water valves in the event a pipe bursts.