Aging makes us more vulnerable to many things, especially in the winter. Cold temperatures bring challenges to seniors, such as hypothermia (low body temperature), frostbite, and falls.
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:
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.
Early signs of hypothermia include -
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.
The signs of frostbite include:
If frostbite occurs, warm the area with warm water. Never use hot water.
Tips to help avoid this hazard include
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:
Space heaters pose a serious fire hazard.
These appliances should be maintained, vented properly, and cleaned regularly. They should be kept away from furniture, curtains, and other flammables.
Signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include:
If you have these symptoms, go out into the fresh air and seek medical care.
To reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, here are some tips:
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.
Tips to reduce the risk of a fall include:
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.
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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 been ...
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