Submitted by Holly Hall
Winter has a tendency to sneak up on us. It seems one day we’re raking leaves and a week later we’re shoveling out from the first snowstorm. While everyone should take certain steps to prepare for the upcoming winter weather, older adults have a much higher risk of weather-related injuries and therefore, should take extra precautions to ensure their health and safety. Following are some tips for seniors to prepare and stay safe during winter weather.
Exercise and Nutrition
Cold weather and hazardous conditions make it more challenging to maintain healthy eating and exercise habits. Seniors may find it challenging to get to the grocery store for fresh food, and snow and ice can prevent outdoor exercise routines. Plan ahead by keeping extra food in the freezer, stocking up on nutritious canned food options, and perhaps signing up for a food delivery service. Explore indoor exercise options available in your area and ask friends to participate with you. The mall, many churches, and some schools offer their facilities to seniors for indoor walking and exercise. Consider joining an exercise class specifically designed for seniors: Zumba, yoga, and tai chi are all excellent indoor activities.
Among older adults, falls are the number one cause of fractures, hospital admissions for trauma, loss of independence, and injury-related deaths. Ice and snow make for slippery conditions that increase the chances of falling. Be sure you have good boots and shoes with low heels and non-slip soles, plus salt and sand readily available for sidewalks and porches. Install handrails if necessary and make sure there is a large, non-slip rug in the entryway so melted snow isn’t tracked inside, causing slick spots on indoor floors. Plan ahead to limit the need to go out on days when hazardous weather is expected.
It is more difficult for older adults to stay warm. In addition, medical conditions like diabetes or arthritis can cause decreased sensitivity to temperature. As a result, seniors are at a much greater risk of developing hypothermia, a serious condition where the body temperature is abnormally low. Frostbite is another condition caused by exposure to extreme cold. Both hypothermia and frostbite can result after only 15 minutes outdoors in extreme temperatures or wind chills. The best advice is to stay inside when temperatures are dangerously low. If you do have to go outside, dress appropriately for the weather conditions!
Shoveling snow, especially in frigid temperatures, puts a senior’s health and well-being at significant risk. Find a reliable person to remove snow for you, whether you hire someone or enlist the help of a friend or neighbor. There are many professional services that will clear driveways and walks when there is significant snowfall, but you also need to have someone who will sweep or shovel even small amounts of precipitation. If you are in good health and can shovel yourself, be sure to take it slow, dress appropriately, and stop for frequent rests.
Make sure your vehicle is prepared for winter conditions. Winterize your car by having the antifreeze, wiper fluid, tires, wipers, belts, hoses and battery thoroughly checked and replaced if necessary. Keep emergency supplies such as a blanket, flashlight, extra gloves etc. in the car. Never drive without a cellphone. If you don’t have one, get a basic phone to keep in the car to be used only for emergencies.
Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to make sure they are working properly. Fireplaces, kerosene lanterns, wood and gas stoves, and gas appliances can all leak deadly carbon monoxide. Have these checked and cleaned to be sure they aren’t malfunctioning. Use caution with electric space heaters as they are a leading cause of home fires. Plan and prepare for power outages by keeping flashlights readily available along with plenty of batteries, making sure there is a battery-operated radio, keeping at least one week’s supply of all medications on-hand, and making sure there is a back-up power source for any medical equipment.
The most important advice for seniors to stay safe during winter weather is to ask for help! If you have an elderly neighbor, relative, or friend, make sure that someone is checking in with them every day. Last winter’s “polar vortex” should be reminder enough to get ready now and prepare for the cold weather ahead.
If you would like information about senior living at Meadows at Mercy Creek, or to schedule a tour, you may contact Holly Hall at 309-268-1501. Meadows at Mercy Creek is located at 1501 Mercy Creek Drive in Normal (near the intersection of Raab Road and Towanda-Barnes Road). They are currently placing interested seniors on a Future Residency waitlist. The community offers 60 apartment homes with a full array of services and amenities and independent living villa homes.
Photo credit: Eerik/iStock