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Thursday, September 12, 2024

Winter Safety for Older Adults

Some folks despise winter because of the miserable weather and lack of sunlight; others absolutely adore the tranquility of a snow fall and the splendor of the season. I know how excited I get when the first big snow hits – I can’t wait to get outside, marvel at how quiet the streets sound, and experience the crunch of the snow under my boots.

We all know winter comes with its own set of dangers for drivers, but sometimes we forget the hazards it poses for the aficionado as well as for the older adults. For example, an acquaintance of mine slipped on black ice a few years ago and broke his back; another sprained an ankle on an uneven surface that had been hidden by the snow. This isn’t to say we should keep ourselves locked inside this winter and admire the magnificence of the season through the fogged windows of our home. However, we should be prepared and take extra precautions when getting out in the winter weather.

Walking on Snow and Ice

  • Poor driving conditions can prevent motorists from braking properly. For this reason, try to stay on the sidewalk or as close to the curb as possible.
  • Snow muffles sounds – including those of oncoming traffic. Therefore, it is important to pay attention to your surroundings.
  • Keep your hands as free as possible to catch yourself if you should fall, as well as to help you stay balanced. If possible, avoid carrying heavy packages while walking on snow and ice.
  • Wear non-slip shoes or attach some simple crampons for extra traction. Walk with slow, small steps, and wear brightly colored or reflective clothing if possible.
  • Always look for dry and clear walkways. If your own steps or walkways have not been cleared, take the time to shovel and de-ice them, or hire someone to handle the job for you.
  • If using a cane or walker, check the rubber tip; smooth tips can be slippery, so replace yours if it has been worn down. There are also ice pick attachments at most medical supply stores for canes, walkers and crutches to provide better traction and prevent slippage in ice and snow.

Remember to wear several thin layers since they are much warmer than one thick layer. It is also easier to remove a layer if you become too hot. Check with your doctor before doing any heavy snow shoveling to make sure you are in the proper physical shape to do so. Shoveling can be dangerous not only for the obvious balancing act it requires, but also because your heart works harder to keep you warm – and that could be too much strain if you suffer from heart disease. Heart disease also increases your risk of frostbite due to poor circulation.

Regardless of heart condition, our circulation slows down as we age, making all older adults more susceptible to frostbite. So, whether you are shoveling or just taking a walk to the post office, cover up all those little parts like your nose, cheeks, ears, and fingers and wear sock liners to give your toes additional warmth. If you notice your skin turning red or dark, or if it begins to hurt – get inside right away. Hypothermia is a concern due to the slower metabolism of older adults – which means you produce less body heat. Always wear a hat, opt for mittens instead of gloves and wrap a scarf around your mouth and nose to keep cold air from entering the lungs. Head inside if you can’t stop shivering; your body is trying to tell you that your core temperature is too low.

Go ahead and enjoy all that winter has to offer if that’s your thing, just remember to take a few extra precautions to protect yourself and your health.

Carrie Robertson
Research & Community Education

Chicago Skilled Nursing
Chicago Senior Living

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