Bomb cyclone, polar vortex, artic freeze—Baby, it’s cold outside!
No matter how you look at it, winter weather poses certain safety hazards for everyone, but especially for seniors.
“Walking in a winter wonderland is one of life’s great joys but, as we age, doing so is not without significant risk,” says Dr. Elaine Healy, vice president of medical affairs at United Hebrew of New Rochelle’s skilled nursing facility.
Baby, it’s cold outside
Why does the winter season affect older adults more than younger adults? Biological changes make seniors more susceptible to becoming ill from cold temperatures.
As we age, our skin becomes thinner and the fat layer beneath diminishes, notes Dr. Healy. This factor, when coupled who the side effects of many commonly prescribed medications, makes it harder for seniors to maintain their core body temperature, and this increases one’s risk for hypothermia.
And injuries are apt to occur in icy conditions. Potentially, they cause falls which are far more deadly, adds Dr. Healy. Because seniors have a diminished reflex impulse, it’s harder to make quick posture changes when they slip. What’s more, bone thickness declines as we age, making fractures a greater possibility.
“Not only can falls in the elderly be catastrophic, they can be life-threatening,” cautions Dr. Healy. “The numbers show that hip fractures come with a 25 percent mortality rate in the first year, and those that recover may have a significant loss of mobility.”
5 Tips for Winter Safety
If at all possible, Dr. Healy advises seniors not to go out in extreme weather. If they must, here are some survival tips:
- Clear a path: Make sure that all walkways are clear of snow and ice, and well-salted.
- Wear appropriate clothing: Dressing warmly and in layers is key! Covering exposed skin with hats, gloves, scarves, or face masks will help retain body warmth. Be sure to wear sunglasses since the ability of aging eyes to adapt to winter glare is diminished as well.
- Adapt your devices for the season: Ensure that all assistive devices (canes, walkers) have been adapted for the weather, with rubber grips to avoid slips on icy surfaces, and wear proper footwear, of course, with non-skid soles.
- Adjust your gait: If you find yourself on ice walk very slowly with loose knees, placing each foot down firmly before taking the next step.
- Ask for help: Be sure to carry a mobile phone with you in the vent that you need to summon help.