Although the snow and ice hasn’t started sticking around in most parts of the US just yet, that familiar chill is in the air warning us that Old Man Winter will be camping out on our lawns soon enough. It’s time to think about how to protect our loved ones from the dangers of colder weather.
Extreme cold temperatures can pose serious risks to our health, especially as we get older. Our metabolism slows and our bodies produce less heat than when we were young and spry, according to the American Geriatrics Society’s Foundation for Health in Aging. As a result, older adults are more susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite. Older people are also more likely to be injured in slip-and-fall accidents.
This winter, as the thermometer dips, let’s take the following steps to prevent cold weather health threats.
Stay warm and cozy
As we get older, our sense of touch deteriorates. In addition, health conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, poor circulation, paralysis brought on by a suffering stroke, etc. can cause a lack of feeling, especially in the extremities. This puts seniors at high risk for hypothermia (abnormally low body temperature), symptoms of which include slurred speech, sluggishness, confusion, dizziness, shallow breathing, and slow, irregular heartbeat. Get emergency help if you see any of these warning signs.
To prevent hypothermia:
- Keep your home’s thermostat set at 68° F or above and reduce heating costs by making your home more energy efficient.
- Dress in layers of loose-fitting clothing for warmth.
- Prepare for weather emergencies by stocking up on food and fresh water. Keep extra batteries, candles, flashlights, and extra blankets on hand at all times.
- When going outside, make sure to keep your head covered and wear mittens or gloves.
Shield your skin from the elements
Aging skin becomes drier and thinner making it more likely to tear and chap. It is also more prone to frostbite. Symptoms of frostbite include gray, white, or yellow skin discoloration, numbness, and a waxy feeling to the skin. If you suspect frostbite has occurred, get immediate medical attention and facilitate warming up the body without rubbing delicate skin.
To protect your skin:
- When going outside, make sure to wear proper gear to protect skin from wind and cold.
- While inside, keep air warm and moist. Use a humidifier or put a pan of water near a heat source, such as a radiator. Change the water on a daily basis.
- Moisturize your skin with lotion and use petroleum jelly on chapped lips or especially dry patches of skin.
Look out for ice
Removing snow and ice from all walkways is essential for preventing falls. If you cannot shovel the areas around your home yourself, consider hiring someone to help. Older adults should consult with their doctors before attempting to shovel or do any hard labor outside in cold weather.
To avoid falls:
- Carefully shovel all steps, driveways, and walkways to your home.
- Sprinkle ice-melting salt, which can be purchased at local home improvement stores, on especially slippery spots.
- Avoid walking on icy or snowing sidewalks whenever possible.
- Whenever walking outside, wear boots with non-skid soles.
- If you use a cane, replace the tip before it gets worn smooth or replace the rubber tip with a sharp icepick-like attachment, which can be purchased at medical supply stores
As always, if you have elderly neighbors and loved ones, check on them regularly. Don’t let an emergency situation be the motivation you need to develop a solid communication plan. For additional peace of mind this season, contact Push Button Emergency Help to provide the right device for quickly and easily connecting your loved ones to emergency personnel.
Don’t let anyone be left out in the cold this winter.