With massive winter storms sweeping across the country, older adults and their loved ones need to take special precautions against conditions that can lead to potentially serious accidents or adverse medical conditions. Even in areas of the country where most of us may already be used to frigid temperatures, this year’s particularly extreme weather can take its toll on some of our most vulnerable citizens.
First and foremost, it is always a good idea to check in on our elderly relatives, neighbors, and friends during especially cold weather. Because older people lose heat from their bodies faster than younger people, it can be more difficult for elders to tell how cold they may actually be and taking prescription medication can further desensitize elders to colder temperatures.
Cold weather can bring icy precipitation that can leave not only roads slippery but also stairs and sidewalks so folks need to take precautions and wear non-skid shoes and weatherize any assistive devices like walkers. Take the time to shovel driveways, sidewalks, and stairs and lay ice-melting solutions down further prevent slips and falls. If you or your loved one has a medical condition like a heart condition, osteoporosis or trouble with balance may need to hire someone to clear driveways and sidewalks.
Cold weather also means taking preventative measures against hazards inside the home as well. Fireplaces and stoves need to be properly ventilated to prevent carbon monoxide buildup and devices like smoke and carbon monoxide detectors need to be installed and check to ensure they are in working order. Dirty chimneys, kerosene and electric heaters can also pose dangers if misused so caution must be exercised when using these devices.
Of course, frigid temperatures increase the risk of hypothermia and frostbite. Warning signs for these hypothermia include shivering, cold, pale or ashy skin, feeling tired, confused or sleepy, weakness, and slowed breathing or heart rate. Frostbite warning signs include discolored skin or the skin feeling waxy or numb.
In addition to traditional cold weather safety concerns like slip and falls, frostbite, and hypothermia, seniors have have medical conditions that require ongoing treatment that could be disrupted by the weather. Elders and their families should work with doctors to ensure there is no lapse in treatment or gap in taking prescription medication.
Although much of this may seem like common sense, the truth is that many folks take their health and safety for granted until an accident happens. As we age, we may not be able to do this we did before, even last winter, and we all need to help one another out to prevent accidents and have a safe winter.