Cold Weather Safety Tips for Older Adults: What to Be Aware Of

Winter may be a challenging season for your safety and security, especially in the northern regions of the United States. Older adults have an increased risk to their safety as temperatures fall throughout the country this winter. When we enter the season of colder temperatures, there are often increased visits to the emergency department for falls and hypothermia. This article will focus on cold weather safety tips for older adults.

Key takeaways:

How do older adults stay safe in the cold?

Some careful planning and a few mindful practices can make your winter a safer and healthier season to enjoy. The following steps will help you achieve improved wellness in the coming months.

Step 1. Bundle Up!

There are warmer parts of the country, but colder weather can have a big effect on most of the United States. As the winter months approach, it is crucial to remember to dress appropriately in order to keep your body temperature safe. When the temperature drops below freezing and the wind chill adds to the danger, older adults are at a higher risk of having bad things happen.

  • When the thermometer dips to zero, it is time to start layering your clothing. Layering is the best way to ensure you lock in enough warmth when you venture outside on a damp or snowy day. If you are too warm, you can always remove a layer. As we age, we are at higher risk for hypothermia from even short periods of being outside in cold weather.
  • Adding a scarf and hat will also prevent heat loss. And don't forget gloves or mittens to prevent your fingers from becoming frostbitten. Remember, if your clothing becomes wet, it is time to change into something warm and dry.
  • Appropriate footwear is a must! Wear insulated boots with non-slip soles for good traction in case of slippery conditions.

Step 2. Stay safe and warm inside!

The cold can have different effects on older people, depending on a number of factors. As we get older, our bodies go through changes that affect how we react to the cold. There are also some medical conditions that can affect that response. We need to know about it and make the best changes we can. Here are some of these factors:

  • Reduced circulation
  • Decreased metabolic rate
  • Thinning skin
  • Reduced subcutaneous fat (fat under the skin)
  • Medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and hypothyroidism
  • Medication and its side effects

There are a few safe things you can do to stay warm at home:

  1. It is best to keep the temperature between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Although you might want to lower your heating costs, leaving your house too cool could put you at risk of hypothermia. Hypothermia happens when your internal body temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit and may be a medical emergency, so prevention is vital. Inside, wear warm clothes, and again, wear layers.
  2. Keep throw blankets on hand to stay warm.
  3. Before the snow falls, make sure your heating system is in great shape so it does not break down when you need it the most. To have your heating system serviced for the season, call your heating service company.
  4. Check your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide monitors monthly to ensure they are in good working order.
  5. Do not forget to mop up any puddles that snow tracked into the house and have a boot tray by the door for wet boots and shoes.

Step 3. Stay safe outdoors!

If you go outside in the winter, you need to be proactive and ready for the weather. A lot of people end up in the emergency room or hospital because they fell on something slippery. A simple scrape can turn into a broken hip or brain injury, so being careful is important to lower the risk.

If you live in a house, make sure you have enough sidewalk salt or sand and a shovel to clear the paths to your mailbox or trash can. If your health does not let you do it, ask a family member, friend, or paid helper to do it for you. In some places, there may be volunteer programs that help older people with things like shoveling snow. For more information, get in touch with your local senior or community center.

If you walk or use a cane, make sure the rubber tip is not worn down. For a better grip in wet weather, you might want to buy a special winter attachment.

Step 4. Be Prepared!

It does not matter what age you are; getting ready for winter is very important. Severe snowstorms batter some parts of the country, and digging out can take days! To stay safe at home or while traveling, an emergency plan is essential. If you have a cell phone, make sure it is fully charged. If your area experiences long-term power outages, consider adding a landline.

Winter safety requires a home and vehicle emergency kit. You can buy a kit or build your own to customize it. For winter power outages, keep these items at home:

  • Battery-operated flashlight or lantern
  • Bottled water
  • Extra blankets
  • Battery-operated radio
  • Extra batteries
  • A supply of canned or wrapped food like energy bars
  • Can opener
  • First aid kit
  • A hard copy of your emergency plan

Avoid going out in bad weather, but if you must, have a safety-equipped vehicle or emergency car kit with:

  • Snowbrush with scraper
  • Small shovel
  • Bottle of spray de-icer
  • Extra windshield washer fluid
  • Blanket
  • Bottle of water
  • Flashlight
  • First aid kit
  • Change of clothes and shoes
  • Road flares
  • Emergency plan
  • Energy bars

Also, keep a bag of salt or sand in the trunk and booster cables. Older adults can enjoy the winter months when going out or even staying indoors in the cold weather. Taking the time and thought outlined in this article to prepare and plan for safety measures will only benefit the health and well-being of older adults.

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