As the hot, humid air of summer transitions into cool, crisp Autumn breezes, it’s time to think about the potential challenges and dangers cold weather can pose, especially to seniors. Don’t miss these helpful reminders and best practices to keep yourself (or your aging loved one) safe this fall and winter:
Piles of slick leaves on the ground, ice, cold gusts of winds . . . nature has plenty in store for the fall and winter months, which means fall risk for seniors may increase. An estimated 1 in 4 seniors reportedly falls each year, some falls leading to life-threatening injury and hospitalization. Prepare your own home to guard against falls in cold weather by:
- Installing grab bars and railings outside on porches, stairways, and ramps leading up to the house
- Avoid leaving the house during inclement weather conditions like snow and ice that make walking outside dangerous
- Stockpile salt and sand that can be laid down to prevent ice buildup on common paths like your sidewalk or driveway
- Ask a neighborhood teen if they would be willing to shovel your drive this winter and keep their contact information handy
- Upgrade your mobility aid for more traction, i.e. try using a supportive knee scooter instead of a basic walker.
Daylight savings time at the beginning of November means that the sun will start setting as early as 4:30pm in some places come winter. For seniors who drive, limited visibility at night can lead to impaired driving and dangerous accidents. Experts recommend that seniors simply avoid driving at night, especially during high-traffic periods, as well as get their eyes checked by a doctor to stay on top of any potential visibility-affecting medical problems.
Shorter days may turn into less social interaction with others during cold weather months, which in itself can negatively affect emotional and mental health. Seniors should prioritize weekly fitness dates with friends, use live video chat services like Skype and Google+ Hangouts to catch up with family far away, and try not to decline invitations to holiday gatherings and family meals.
One of the toughest parts of fall and winter is the severe cold weather that can quickly lead to hypothermia. Too often, seniors who are aging in place and who simply can’t afford high heating bills may decide to cut back on heating expenses and potentially risk their own health. Extended exposure to cold temperatures can lead to hypothermia, pneumonia, and even death, plus constantly feeling cold can make anyone, young or old, more susceptible to fall ill. When it comes to staying warm, seniors should:
- Ask for help – energy assistance programs from your local government or National Council on Aging support expanding heating resources to seniors in need and can help you afford proper heating.
- Dress in layers – always dress in layers when heading out of the house in the fall and winter to avoid getting stuck in a cold snap without proper protection. Keep an extra pair of gloves and a scarf in your car just in case.
- Keep a blanket/throw on the couch – it’s easy to stay warm and snug in your commonly used rooms when you have a blanket handy to wrap up in.
- Monitor heating fuel – keep a close eye on your fuel consumption to make sure you don’t run out of wood, kerosene, etc. in the middle of winter.
Did you know that seniors naturally experience a diminished thirst function causing them to dehydrate? As you age, your body’s ability to recognize when you feel thirsty dissipates, putting many seniors at risk of dehydrating due to lack of water consumption. Combine that with cold, dry days of winter, and you have a recipe for disaster. Healthy hydration tips for seniors include:
- Drink a glass of water each time you take medicine and use the restroom
- Consume water-rich foods like soups, stews, and fresh fruits and veggies
- Set water reminders on your smartphone or alarm clock
- Ask caregivers to be mindful of your water consumption
- Keep water bottles accessible in the pantry, car, etc.
Fall and winter are ripe with majestic scenery and cozy holiday gatherings, however, they can also pose perilous challenges, especially for seniors. Equip yourself (or your loved one) now and be prepared for whatever comes your way