As the cold weather approaches, you may be looking forward to winter activities and celebrating the holiday season with your friends and family. However, when the temperature drops, older adults are more at risk for serious health problems and winter-related injuries. That’s why cold weather safety for seniors is so important. Older adults tend to lose body heat faster than in their younger years, which can pose a number of health concerns such as an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, flu, pneumonia, frostbite, and even hypothermia. In addition, as our bodies change with age, older adults can have a more difficult time noticing when they are becoming cold. As we prepare for the changes in season, it’s the perfect opportunity to review the dangers of cold weather and winter safety.
If older adults lose body heat too quickly, they are more at risk for a variety of illnesses, some of which can be fatal. According to the National Institute on Aging, here are a few of the most common cold-weather health complications for older adults:
When an older adult’s body temperature falls below 95°F, their bodies can start to fail and the risk of heart attack, stroke, and kidney problems increases. Hypothermia can occur when body temperature decreases significantly, which can happen when someone is outside in cold weather for long periods of time, or lives in a home that isn’t properly heated during the winter. Sometimes, it can be difficult to tell if you or someone else is suffering from hypothermia. Here are a few common signs to look out for:
After some time has passed, the later symptoms of hypothermia can include stiff and jerky arm and leg movements, slow heartbeat, and losing consciousness. If you sense someone has the warning signs of hypothermia, immediately call 9-1-1, then try warming them with blankets and towels.
When exposed to the cold for too long, our bodies can experience damage to the skin that can reach the bone. Frostbite usually occurs on parts of the body farthest from the heart, such as our nose, cheeks, chin, fingers and toes. When frostbite goes untreated, it can result in a loss of limbs.
Falls are the leading cause of injury for those over 65, and are likely to occur in the winter months, especially when shoveling driveways and descending icy stairs. Winter weather makes walking outside more dangerous and can often result in a fall-related injury.
Fires and Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
While it’s extremely important to keep your house properly heated in the wintertime, it can also pose some danger if not properly vented. Fireplaces, wood and gas stoves, and gas appliances should be cleaned and checked for leaks each year before using them. If not working properly, these appliances can leak carbon monoxide, a dangerous and even deadly gas that can’t be seen or smelled. The warning signs of a carbon monoxide leak include headache, weakness, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, confusion, blurred vision, and loss of consciousness.
According to the National Institute on Aging, some illnesses and chronic diseases can make it more difficult for your body to stay warm. Thyroid problems can make it hard to maintain a normal body temperature, which can be exacerbated by colder outdoor temperatures. Diabetes can reduce the blood flow which reduces body warmth, while Parkinson’s disease and arthritis make it challenging to get dressed properly, including difficulty zipping up jackets, putting on sweaters and using blankets. In addition, those with memory loss might find it more difficult to remember to put on warm clothes before going outside. Those who are at risk of wandering can also find themselves in dangerous situations if they get locked outside or start to wander after dark.
While there are many reasons older adults are susceptible to contracting cold weather-related illnesses, staying in a home that is too cold is among the most common. According to the World Health Organization, “Cold indoor temperatures are associated with increased blood pressure, asthma symptoms, and even poor mental health. Cold homes also contribute to excess winter mortality and morbidity.” An important part of cold weather safety for seniors is to make sure your home is well heated.
Staying in a senior living community, like Maplewood Senior Living, will ensure that your home is properly heated and able to keep you safe all winter long. However, if you live alone or in your own home, always call an inspector to have your chimneys inspected to avoid gas leaks. Make sure to place smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in areas where you use fireplaces, gas heaters or wood stoves.
In addition to keeping your home properly heated, experts suggest the following cold weather safety tips for seniors:
Cold weather can present many health concerns for older adults. However, living at a Maplewood Senior Living community brings peace of mind to our residents and family members. We look out for the cold weather safety of our senior residents by providing safe transportation, a warm environment, and well-maintained grounds, so they can enjoy the winter season without worrying about their well-being. To learn more about all that we offer or to schedule a tour, please contact us.
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