When the cold winds of winter settle in, we need to take special care of our elderly friends and neighbors. There are dangers to everyone’s health in cold weather, but for the elderly, these dangers can be life-threatening. Here are some things to remember to help keep our precious seniors safe this winter.
Awareness: Seniors are more prone to heart attack and stroke in cold weather. The reasons are many, including the fact that arteries constrict more in the cold. Since seniors’ bodies often have trouble regulating their body temperatures, they may become cold sooner than others, thus increasing the risk of constricted blood flow. Constricted blood flow makes the heart work harder and this, in turn, may lead to heart attack or stroke.
Seniors may also keep their homes either too cool or too warm. Be sure to check for safe thermostat settings, safe electrical plug-ins, working smoke detectors, safe placement of space heaters and proper water heater temperatures. It’s especially important that seniors dress warmly in layers and that they receive adequate nutrition in cold weather. Make it a habit to check regularly on elderly friends and neighbors by phoning or dropping in for a visit.
Vitamin Deficiencies: Lack of adequate nutrition can cause any senior to feel poorly. But in cold weather when there is little opportunity to be out of doors and there is a lack of sunshine, seniors may quickly become deficient in Vitamin D. It may be necessary to take vitamin D supplements, especially during the winter months. It may be a good idea to check on food supplies for your senior friends. They may not have adequate funds to stock up on food in case of prolonged bad weather.
Dangers of Hypothermia: Seniors are especially prone to hypothermia. It’s even possible to move into hypothermia while asleep. Signs of the condition include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, slurred speech, drowsiness and memory loss. If you find an elderly person in this state, call for help immediately. In the meanwhile place them in a warm room, provide dry clothing and blankets and offer non-alcoholic, caffeine-free drinks. Refrain from moving the person unnecessarily until help arrives.
Preventing Falls: Falls are a danger to seniors all the time. But in the winter months when snow and ice are on the ground, they pose an even greater threat. Wearing non-skid boots or shoes and taking short steps will provide some preventative help. Walking slowly and using a cane or other means of balance is also recommended. Spread salt or kitty litter to walkways and driveways. Moderate exercise is also a way to increase balance which helps prevent falls.
Depression: Elderly persons who are lonely much of the time may be more prone to depression in cold weather. Days are darker and there are fewer opportunities for them to get out of doors on their own. Offering to take them shopping or out for a meal may be just what they need to perk up their day. We all get “cabin fever” when kept indoors for too long a time.
Winter weather can be a real challenge for all of us, but is especially hard on the elderly. Let’s be sure we do all we can to prevent cold weather emergencies for all of our seniors