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Winter Safety Tips: Keeping Our Seniors Safe This Winter

Winter Safety Tips: Keeping Our Seniors Safe This Winter
Christine Kijek, RN, BSN, WON

Aging makes us more vulnerable to many things, especially in the winter. Cold temperatures bring challenges to seniors, here are 4 common hazards and how to avoid them.

Common Winter Safety Hazards

Common Safety Hazards Winter Safety Tips
Hypothermia Set the indoor temperature to 65 degrees or warmer and avoid going out on colder days.
Frostbite Keep yourself covered when going out. Wear boots with non-skid soles.
Fire & Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Install carbon monoxide and smoke detectors.
Falls Use non-skid mobility aids such as rubber tip canes.

1. Hypothermia

Senior citizens can lose body heat much faster than younger adults and are often unaware of lost body heat, which can be very dangerous. Hypothermia, or a body temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, can cause health problems that include:

  • Heart attack
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver damage

If your house is cold, you can suffer from hypothermia as well. If a loved one resides in an extended care facility, it is important to note the temperature of their room. If it feels cold, it is important that they dress warmly. Spending an extended period outside increases the risk of hypothermia.

Signs of Hypothermia

Tips to avoid Hypothermia

  • Stay indoors on very cold days.
  • Set the indoor temperature to 65 degrees or warmer.
  • Shut doors of unused rooms and keep them closed.
  • Place a towel or draft stopper at the bottom of the doors.
  • Keep blinds and curtains closed.
  • Dress warmly (consider layering clothing)
  • Change wet clothing.
  • Wear socks and slippers.
  • If you need to go out in cold weather, wear a hat, gloves, scarf, coat, and boots.
  • Be sure you have warm blankets on the bed.
  • If you lose power, stay with a friend/relative that has power.
  • AVOID space heaters (these are a fire hazard)

2. Frostbite

Frostbite damages the skin when exposed to extreme cold. It affects the areas farthest from the heart where blood flow or circulation is slower such as fingers, toes, ears, and nose, and can lead to the loss of limbs.;

Early Signs of Frostbite

  • The signs of frostbite include
  • White/gray skin color
  • Pain
  • Hard skin
  • Numbness

To avoid Frostbite

  • Keep your skin covered when out in the extreme cold
  • Only go out for short periods
  • Clearing away snow from walkways.
  • Watch for wet pavement that may be iced over.
  • Salt/sand steps and walkways.
  • Consider hiring someone to manage your shoveling and salting.
  • If frostbite occurs, warm the area with warm water. Never use hot water.

3. Fire & Carbon Monoxide

Another hazard for seniors to consider is fire and carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is a gas that has no smell. During cold winters, many seek alternative ways to heat their homes, which may be less expensive. Common heating sources include:

  • Fireplace
  • Natural gas
  • Kerosene
  • Space heaters

These appliances should be maintained, vented properly, and cleaned regularly. They should be kept away from furniture, curtains, and other flammables.

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include:

  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness

If you have these symptoms, go out into the fresh air and seek medical care.

Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

To reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, here are some tips:

  • Install carbon monoxide and smoke detectors.
  • Be sure space heaters are placed a minimum of 3 feet from anything that can catch fire.
  • Clean and inspect chimneys and fireplace flues annually.
  • Never use a gas stove, charcoal grill, or other heating sources not made for indoor use

4. Falls

Winter weather can pose a real hazard to seniors. Falls are dangerous any time of the year, but the risk increases due to inclement weather and ice. Seniors are fragile, and any trouble with balance or thinning bones can turn a fall into a major injury or health risk.

Reducing Chances of Fall

Tips to reduce the risk of a fall include:

  • Be sure walkways and steps are clear of snow and ice before walking.
  • Wet pavement may be icy.
  • Be sure salt and sand have been spread before walking.
  • Hire someone to clear salt and sand for you.
  • Wear boots with non-slip soles.
  • Use a cane with a new rubber tip.
  • Apply an ice pick tip to a walking cane for added safety.

Lastly, shoveling snow can strain your heart if you have heart disease. In cold weather, the heart works harder to keep you warm. Add the shoveling strain, and your heart incident risk increases greatly. It is best to hire someone to manage snow removal for you.

Keeping our seniors safe in winter should be a high priority. If you have an elderly neighbor, consider clearing their walkway for them. Offer to pick something up at the store while you’re out. Be kind and help them out. 

Author Profile: Christine Kijek, Registered Colorectal Nurse

Christine Kijek

Christine Kijek is a colorectal nurse at Danbury Hospital in Danbury, CT. She has a wealth of knowledge in this field as well as personal experience. HPFY is thrilled that she has been an active participant in the Ostomy Support Group. She has experience working as a coordinator for cancer patients, post-operative care, and home health care for disabled children and adults. And guess what! Christine is also the recipient of the Nurse Exemplar Award. Christine lives in Bethel, CT with her husband Ed. Her children are married and live nearby. She has 4 grandchildren and is known as GiGi. Christine enjoys riding motorcycles and spends many hours gardening. She can often be found onboard a Carnival Cruise ship lounging by the pool.



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HPFY Christine Kijek, RN, BSN, WON

Christine Kijek, RN, BSN, WON

LinkedIn Profile Christine Kijek is a registered nurse with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing. She has completed courses for wound and ostomy specialty and has 20 years of experience. She has ...

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