The Elderly Are More Susceptible To Injuries And Illnesses Caused By Winter Weather.
It can get pretty cold and snowy here in New Jersey and cause lots of headaches for everyone, but winter weather can be particularly troublesome for the elderly. Understanding these dangers and how to ensure that seniors are safe during winter can help protect your aging loved one – even during the harshest of weather.
Statistics show that the risk of falls increases during the winter months, and falls can cause serious injuries such as head trauma, major lacerations, and hip and wrist fractures.
These injuries are a particular concern for seniors. According to this article by the National Council on Aging (NCOA), falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults. With aging, it becomes more difficult to recover from injuries caused by falls.
Here are a few reasons why the elderly are more susceptible to falls and injuries:
- Diabetes, poor circulation, and arthritis – conditions that are common in older adults – can decrease sensations in the feet, which can affect balance.
- Medications can cause side effects, such as dizziness and drowsiness, that can cause falls.
- The home is full of fall risks, some obvious but even more so in unexpected places.
- Many seniors do not get enough exercise, which can cause a weakening of the muscles.
Tips for seniors to be safe during winter and prevent falls:
- Urge them to stay inside when sidewalks and roads are particularly slippery.
- Encourage them to wear boots with good traction or non-skid soles whenever they go outside in the winter month, even just to get the mail or take out the trash.
- Advise everyone to take off their shoes as soon as they are inside the house because melting snow and ice from the bottom of shoes can make conditions inside slippery.
- Make sure all walkways are clear, treated with salt, are well lit and that there are handrails on all steps.
- Allow enough time to get to appointments, so they do not feel rushed, which can cause them to fall more easily.
- If they use a cane, make sure the rubber tip isn’t worn down.
- Consider getting a complete fall evaluation if they seem unsteady on their feet.
- Ask the prescribing doctor or pharmacist if any of the medications can cause dizziness.
- Start them on an exercise program to improve strength.
More than half of the deaths related to hypothermia were people over the age of 65, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Hypothermia occurs when your body temperature gets very low. A body temperature that falls to 95°F or lower can cause a heart attack, kidney problems, liver damage, and more. This is not only a concern when seniors go outside; it can even happen when they are inside their home.
Since most older adults have a fixed income, many will turn the temperature down in their home to save on heating costs. Therefore, even temperatures between 60 and 65° F may be too cold for an older person. Here are some reasons why:
- Seniors tend to lose body heat faster
- Thyroid problems, diabetes, Parkinson’s, and arthritis – Illnesses that are common in older adults – make it harder to retain body heat
- Dementia and Alzheimer’s can cause older adults to have poor judgment
- Seniors tend to be less active, which can reduce body heat
- Certain medications – even over-the-counter – can affect body heat.
Be aware of the warning signs of hyperthermia:
- Cold feet and hands
- Pale skin
- Slurred speech
- Acting weak or tired
- Being angry or confused
- Having trouble walking
- Slow, shallow breathing
- Low heart rate
If you suspect that anyone has Hypothermia, call 911 immediately. Then, try to move them to a warmer place, wrap them in a warm blanket, coat, etc., and give them something warm to drink (avoid caffeine and alcohol).
Above all, do NOT rub their legs and arms, instead try to put them in a warm bath, or use a heating pad.
Prevention is essential in keeping seniors safe during winter. Therefore, here are some tips to avoid hypothermia:
- If they have to go outside when it is cold, make sure they wear layers of clothing. This includes a hat, mittens (which retain heat better than gloves), scarf, and warm boots.
- Keep the temperature inside the home at a minimum of 68 degrees.
- If they are having trouble paying their heating bills, take measures such as closing off unused rooms and caulking around windows to save on heating costs and check with government organizations, such as eldercare.gov for assistance.
- Although the elderly might be tempted to use space heaters, keep in mind that they can cause fires and carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Make sure they dress warmly, even when inside on cold days.
- Limit alcohol consumption, which can cause the loss of body heat.
Many people are prone to depression in the winter. The days are shorter, the nights are longer, and the tendency is to be less active. It is much harder to enjoy the great outdoors. The same is true for seniors who may already struggle with depression. During the winter, many older adults do not go out as often and have less contact with people. As a result, this may lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
The best thing to do to combat depression in the winter is to make sure your older loved one has contact with people. You would be surprised how much even a quick call from a family member each day can make a difference. Even better, is to make sure that someone regularly visits your loved one.
Professional Home Care Services Can Assist Keeping Seniors Safe During Winter
Hibernian Home Care knows how important it is to keep seniors safe in the winter as well as the well-being of your family. Our team understands the challenges that are faced when caring for an older loved one and the unique risks they face. You do not have to do it alone. Our professional caregivers can help make sure your loved one does not take a nasty fall or risk getting hypothermia. In addition, our trained staff are able to provide some of that human contact that is essential to combatting depression.
For more information and to learn more about our Home Care services available in Monmouth and Ocean Counties, New Jersey, use this Contact Us form or call us at 732-481-1148 so we can review together the best options for ensuring that seniors are safe even during the harsh winter months.