Cold Weather Safety Tips for Seniors

Many people are affected by cold weather and winter storms, but staying warm and healthy during the winter months is especially vital for our elderly loved ones.  Seniors are not only at risk for broken bones from falls on ice and breathing problems caused by cold air, they are also at serious risk for hypothermia and frost bite.  Older adults often make less body heat because of a slower metabolism and less physical activity, thus putting them at risk for these serious conditions. 

At CareFocus Companion Services, we care about the health and safety of you and your loved ones.  We also understand that winter brings with it increased concerns and dangers. 

Safety FirstWith cold weather comes ice and snow, increasing your loved one's chance of falling. To avoid slips and falls, make sure boots are non-skid, and if your loved one uses a cane, be sure to replace the rubber tip before it is worn smooth or it will become slippery, especially when wet.  Use rock salt, sand, or another chemical de-icing compound to keep steps, walkways, and driveways free of ice. 

Outdoor winter tasks, such as shoveling snow, require more energy than many seniors think, especially because cold weather puts an added strain on the back and heart.  Because of the added risks shoveling snow presents, it is not recommended that older adults take this task on themselves.  You should encourage your loved one to let you help, by either shoveling the snow yourself or hiring someone who can. 

If you take on the task of shoveling the snow yourself, stretching beforehand, taking frequent breaks, and using proper form are essential to preventing injuries from occurring.  Below are a few tips help prevent injury while shoveling snow:

- Pace yourself by taking frequent breaks to stretch your back, arms, and legs

- Push the snow, do not lift it

- Shovel safely by gripping the shovel with your hands at least 12 inches apart, slightly bend your legs at the knee, keep your back straight, and do not bend at the waist; this will reduce strain on the heart and back

- Use a shovel with a small scoop and keep loads light and small

Winter weather also presents added risks within the home.  Because of increased use of fuel-burning heaters and the fact that seniors’ bodies can’t eliminate carbon monoxide as quickly as younger adults, it is important to make sure that all smoke and carbon monoxide detectors work in the home.   

Keeping WarmExposure to cold temperatures can cause serious or life-threatening health problems.  As people age, the ability to feel a change in temperature decreases, making it extremely important for seniors to dress in layers, both indoors and outside. 

When outdoors, make sure your loved one covers all exposed skin including the head, face, ears, hands, and feet.  Mittens are a good alternative to gloves because they allow the fingers to touch which generates warmth.  It is important to make sure that when headed outside, clothes are loose fitting; tight clothing can keep blood from flowing freely and lead to loss of body heat.  By wearing several layers of loose clothing, the warm air gets trapped between each layer, keeping the entire body warmer. 

When inside, take extra care when using fireplaces, wood stoves, candles, and space heaters as they can cause fires and fill your loved one’s home with smoke or carbon monoxide. To conserve interior heat keep windows and doors closed, this includes the doors to other rooms in the house not being used.  You can also seal windows and doors by placing towels along the cracks and openings, preventing drafts and keeping the warm air inside. 

Eating Right
Eating well-balanced meals and avoiding alcoholic and caffeinated beverages will help your loved one stay warmer this winter.  Caffeine and alcohol cause the body to lose heat more rapidly than other beverages. Instead, you can offer warm, sweet beverages or broth to help maintain body temperature. 

Other good meal choices are vegetable-laden stews and soups made with reduced sodium broths.  Soups will not only warm your loved one up on a cold day, but they also provide the body with beneficial nutrients.

It is also important to make sure your loved one is drinking at least six to eight glasses of liquid a day, especially in dry cold weather, to avoid dehydration. Drinking plenty of water can also help prevent dry skin problems.

If you think a family member may be in need of homecare or caregiving services this winter season, contact CareFocus Companion Services today for a free assessment.

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