Depending on where you live, winter can come with harsh temperatures and environmental conditions. Even in milder climates, the changes that do occur can be just enough to cause difficulties for seniors.
You might think that the cold weather is the biggest challenge. But other difficulties come with winter that you should be just as aware of.
Injuries and Accidents
Most wintertime injuries come from slipping and falling on icy surfaces. Older people often have trouble with balance and reaction time, making it more likely that they will have an accident. And minor accidents can cause major trouble for seniors. They can take longer to heal and may get more complications from fractures and breaks.
To avoid slipping, practice good fall prevention techniques. Wear shoes that have non-slip soles. These types of shoes aren’t slick on the bottom. They provide good traction. Also, think of the bottom of your cane or walker as you would your shoes. If the tips are worn out and slick, they are likely to slip as well. Go ahead and replace them with new tips that grip.
Once inside the house, be aware of wet spots by the door. If snow and ice come in on your shoes, it can melt and make puddles of water. Take off your outdoor shoes as soon as you come in. Then place them away from the door, or on a mat that will absorb the water from the melting snow.
Avoid driving on ice. If the conditions are bad, find someone else to drive you, or use public transportation. If the roads seem okay during the day, you still might want to stay off of them at night or in the early morning. Lower temperatures overnight can cause water to freeze on the roads during those hours.
Hypothermia is more of a threat to seniors than it is to the general population. According to a CDC report, most hypothermia-related deaths happen to people over 65 years old. Other contributing factors are conditions that are also often found in the senior population:
- Dehydration contributes to hypothermia.
- Lower metabolic rate makes it difficult to maintain a normal body temperature.
- Perception of cold may be altered in older people.
- Hypothyroidism and diabetes can contribute to hypothermia risk.
- Medications can suppress vasoconstriction and the shivering response.
- Decision making may be affected by medical conditions.
Hypothermia can be prevented by dressing warmly and setting the inside temperature to no lower than 68. It may be tempting to try to save on your electric bill, but mild hypothermia can happen at temperatures as high as 65 degrees.
When going outside, make sure to bundle up with layers. Coats, hats, gloves, and scarves should be worn, even if you think you are only going to be outside for a little while.
Nutrition and Exercise
Cold weather limits how much you can go outdoors. And staying inside often limits the variety of food and exercise you get. When staying in, it’s easy to feel lethargic and resist doing intentional exercise or planning meals. But sitting around watching TV under a blanket all day is not good for your health.
Make time every day to do some indoor exercise. Only 15 minutes a day will make a difference. Find some free videos on the internet and follow along with their program. Or use pedaling machines and free weights to create your own routine.
Eat as wide a variety of foods as you can. Commit to making meals from scratch a certain number of nights a week. Make a weekly grocery store trip. Eating the same old frozen or canned meals day after day can contribute to nutritional deficits. Continue to incorporate as many fresh fruits and vegetables in your meals as possible. You may also want to ask your doctor to test your vitamin D levels to see if you need to add a supplement to your routine.
Take care of yourself in the winter so that you will be in tip-top shape for enjoying the nice weather when spring comes again!
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