Wintry conditions increase risks for medical problems and accidental injuries in older people. Taking extra precautions to guard your health and safety becomes more important as the years pass. To cope with winter’s added challenges, follow these tips from experts including Piedmont Hospital’s Dr. Sandra Fryhofer and the New York City Office of Emergency Management.
Be Aware of Seasonal Health Consequences
Cold weather exposure can lead to serious medical conditions, some of which may be life threatening. As you mature, your metabolism gets slower, and your body generates less heat than it did in your younger years. Some health problems like arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, and stroke also can make you more vulnerable to freezing temperatures.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn that older adults have a natural increased chance of developing hypothermia. Its symptoms include dizziness, sluggishness, confusion, slurred speech, shallow breathing, unusual behaviors, and slower irregular heartbeat. Frostbite indicators include white, yellow, or gray skin discoloration with numbness and a waxy feel.
Both of these conditions require immediate medical care. While you wait for medical care, use a blanket to warm yourself, beginning with your core. Warming your limbs first can speed cold blood circulation to your heart, which could bring on heart failure. Sip warm broth, but skip caffeine and alcohol because they can worsen your condition.
Frigid weather constricts your blood vessels and puts additional strain on your heart. Strenuous work like shoveling snow or pushing your car can increase your heart rate, heart attack chances, and fall risk while possibly worsening other conditions. These possibilities also could occur when working or exercising outside during winter.
If you suffer from hypertension, your physician may put you on Telmisartan, an angiotensin receptor blocker. It reduces blood pressure by relaxing your blood vessels and preventing restriction so your blood can flow more smoothly. This medication helps adults over 55 to avoid serious heart complications including heart attacks, strokes, and fatal heart problems.
Dress in Warm Layers
Whenever you must venture outdoors, bundle up in layers to increase insulating warmth. Fryhofer recommends a synthetic first layer to wick away any moisture (see video below). This will prevent evaporation, which may make you feel even colder. Thick socks and gloves will protect sensitive extremities. Cover your head with a hood, hat, or scarf because you lose most heat through your head. Protect the lower half of your face including your nose and earlobes from the elements with a scarf. If you start to sweat, remove the top layer. You can add it back easily if you feel chilly again. If your outer layer of clothing gets wet, remove it.
Avoid Slip and Fall Hazards
While snow can add sparkle and beauty to any scene, ice can turn your steps, sidewalk, and driveway into slippery fall hazards. Frost can make concrete and grass slick, and wet shoes may cause slips on floors when you go inside.
Wear shoes or boots with nonskid soles, and steady yourself with handrails whenever possible. If you have limited vision, you might have more difficulty seeing stairs and obstacles with dusk arriving earlier Be attentive to all your surroundings, taking extra time and care to walk safely.
Shovel Snow Carefully
These pointers can help you stay safe if you must remove snow:
Stretch indoors before going outside. Some stretching exercises will warm your body and help prevent snow-shoveling injuries.
Cover your mouth. This will prevent extremely cold outdoor air from harming your lungs.
Avoid overexertion. Take rest breaks frequently. To prevent dehydration, drink extra fluids.
Stay dry. Wet clothes lose all of their insulating value. Change them promptly to prevent a dangerous decline in body heat.
Be safe. Walk slowly and carefully on icy or snowy driveways and sidewalks. If you use a snow blower, don’t unclog it with your hands.
Spread ice-melting products like sand or road salt to increase traction on walkways.
Request help. Restrict your outdoor activities to match your health limitations, fitness level, and physical abilities. You may need to enlist family, neighbors, or a snow removal service to do this chore for you.
Warm Your Home Safely
Check your thermostat regularly to be sure that your heater is running properly. If you use your fireplace for heat, make sure to open the damper for ventilation. Using portable heaters improperly can cause fires. Most people are unaware that setting one space heater on high power is like illuminating 15 100-watt light bulbs simultaneously. For older houses, particularly those with 15-amp circuits, that may be too heavy of an electrical load to pump through your wall outlets.
To heat your home’s interior safely:
Use only indoor-approved portable heaters.
Keep all combustible materials such as draperies, furniture, and rugs a minimum of three feet from heat sources.
Never drape damp clothes over space heaters to dry them.
Turn heaters off when you go to other rooms. Never allow children to stay alone in rooms with space heaters running.
Be cautious so you don’t overload your electrical circuits.
Use smoke detectors throughout your house. Check and replace the batteries often.