The Most Important Senior Safety Tips for Winter
Winter can be a beautiful time of year, but it can also be risky or even dangerous. Winter safety tips are important for seniors, particularly when it comes to things like fall prevention. Some of the risks in winter that are specific to seniors include:
- Hypothermia: This occurs when your body temperature falls to a dangerous level. If you’re outside for too long in the winter, you’re at risk of hypothermia. When you’re an older adult, the risk is greater because of the changes that occur to your body as you age. Warning signs of hypothermia include pale or ashy skin, feeling weak, and slow breathing or heart rate.
- Falls: Among all the winter safety tips, fall prevention is one of the most important for seniors and their loved ones to keep in mind. When it’s icy or snowy, the fall risk is more significant.
- Fires and carbon monoxide poisoning: During winter, we often use heating sources like natural gas and kerosene, as well as fireplaces. Fireplaces and gas and wood stoves have to be properly vented and maintained. Otherwise, they can leak carbon monoxide, which is dangerous but can’t be seen or smelled.
- Frostbite: Frostbite is damage to your body from the cold. Your nose, ears, fingers, toes, and chin are most at risk of frostbite.
- Driving accidents: Winter conditions can make the roadways more dangerous than normal. Icy roads can be slick, and the ice is often invisible.
- Viral illnesses: The flu is a significant risk for everyone during the winter, especially older people. This year we’re also dealing with COVID-19, so the dangers of viral illnesses are even more significant.
Winter Safety Tips for Seniors
With the above risks in mind, the following are some winter safety tips for seniors.
Get a Flu Shot
Everyone should get a flu shot to protect themselves from viral illnesses. While the flu shot won’t protect you from COVID-19, it will help reduce the risk of severe illness from the flu.
Try to eat a healthy diet with fresh fruits and vegetables and lean protein during the winter to strengthen your immune system. Ask your doctor if they recommend you take any dietary supplements.
You should make it a priority to stay warm throughout the winter. Make sure your clothes are always dry and protect your lungs from cold air. Wearing two or three thin layers of loose-fitting clothes tends to be more effective than wearing one thicker clothes layer.
Wear a hat and gloves, as well as a coat, scarf, and boots if you live somewhere with a cold climate.
When you’re inside, you want to stay warm as well. Close off rooms you aren’t using to save on your heating costs. Dress warmly on cold days, even if you’re staying home.
Reduce Your Fall Risk
When sidewalks and walkways are wet or icy, they are more of a fall risk. Fall prevention tips include ensuring that your steps and walkways stay clear. Have a family member help you clear them or hire someone to do it.
Another part of fall prevention is always wearing boots with non-skid soles. If you use a cane, replace the rubber tip if it’s worn down and smooth.
If you need it, think about using an attachment on the end of a cane that will provide you with extra traction.
Along with general fall prevention tips, a medical alert system can be an important thing to remember in terms of winter safety tips.
Even if you do your best to reduce the risk of falling on ice, it can still happen. Ice is tricky and hard to see. If you have a medical alert system, you can call for help right away. Medical alert systems also have automatic fall detection in many cases. Popular options include:
- MobileHelp offers two months free, as well as fall detection services.
- MedicalAlert features no long-term contract and premium protection and monitoring.
- LifeFone Medical Alert Services include fall detection and free protection for spouses.
Carbon Monoxide and Fire Protection
Before it gets too far into the winter, have someone come and professionally inspect your chimneys and flues. You should plan to do this every year.
If you’re using a kerosene stove, always remember to crack a nearby window.
You should also have both carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors carefully placed around your home. These should be located near where you use heaters, wood stoves, or fireplaces.
Don’t try to heat your home using something like a charcoal grill or gas stove, and ensure that curtains and bedding, as well as furniture, are located at least three feet from space heaters.
Safety Behind the Wheel
People aged 65 and older are most often involved in car crashes compared to other age groups. Winter can mean especially challenging driving conditions.
Take your car to your local mechanic to winterize it before the weather gets too extreme. This means they’ll check your tires, windshield wipers, and antifreeze levels.
You should always take your cell phone with you before you drive anywhere. Let a friend or loved one know where you’re going and when you think you’ll be back.
Avoid overpasses and bridges if you can, because they are more likely to have ice. If it snows where you live, try to avoid the backroads because they’re less likely to be cleared than main roads.
You should also have some emergency essentials in your car at all times, including:
- Extra warm clothes
- Windshield scraper
- First aid kit
- Boost cables
- Cat litter or rock salt
- Non-perishable food
Many people can deal with mental health issues during the winter. Winter depression is common not just among seniors but people of all age groups. We’re still social distancing because of COVID-19, so there are likely going to be problems people experience due to isolation as well.
When it comes to winter safety tips, protecting your mental health is as important as protecting your physical health.
Stay connected with your friends and loved ones, even if you’re doing so virtually.
Speak to your doctor about taking a vitamin D supplement as well. We get vitamin D from the sun, but that’s in short supply in the winter. Vitamin D helps strengthen our immune system and bones, but it’s also important for mood and mental health.
If you’re someone who has an older person in your life, be proactive about checking in with them. Make sure they know how to use technology like Zoom or FaceTime so they can develop social connections during the winter months.
This winter may be a challenging time, but if you’re a senior, following the above safety tips can help you make it through the season. If your loved one is a senior, along with helping them stay warm and safe, make sure that you’re connecting with them and letting them know you care.