Winters are hard on everyone. But for seniors, it can present additional challenges. Here are some concerns that become especially prevalent in the coming colder months:
Dressing for the Weather – Everyone, including seniors, must take particular care to dress appropriately for the weather. Otherwise, there is a serious risk of frostbite or even hypothermia. The key is to dress in layers, and of course to wear proper outdoor clothing such as a heavy coat, hat, scarf and gloves. Footwear should be properly insulated, and should be augmented by heavy socks.
Physical Safety – Icy or snow-covered roadways and walkways are treacherous. The likelihood of enduring a fall in colder weather can be magnified by the challenges some seniors already have, such as loss of vision acuity, muscle weakness, and difficulties with balance. And if a “slip-and-fall” does happen, it can take a disproportionately large toll on a senior’s health, and can take longer to recover from.
Seniors must take care to wear shoes with good traction. Cane tips should be replaced as soon as they become worn out. Unless it cannot be avoided, they should also consider running non-essential errands only after roads and pathways have been cleared.
Car Accidents / Keeping Up Maintenance – Winter driving can be hazardous for all drivers – but all the more so for seniors, who may have less overall driving opportunity and who may have physical challenges that make driving more difficult.
When driving seniors should consider taking a route that avoids icy roads, even if the trip takes longer because of it. All drivers should carry a cell phone whenever driving in bad weather, and should pack the car with a First Aid kit, blankets and extra warm clothing, and a car emergency kit including a shovel for digging out when stuck in snow. Finally, car maintenance should be kept current, including installing snow tires, topping up the antifreeze, and ensuring that wiper blades are in good condition. Find out more in our recent news item on road safety.
Injuries While Shoveling Snow – Seniors who are able to clear their own walkway will want to take particular care not to over-exert themselves, since it is a deceptively-strenuous activity. For seniors who may be unaccustomed to vigorous exercise, the heart rate can become quickly elevated, and there can be sudden strain on muscles and especially the back. It may be wiser to hire a neighbor to do this work if possible.
Diet and Exercise – With the reduced opportunity to go outside due to unbearably cold temperatures, seniors may find that their outlet for physical exercise gets reduced. And since winter is when people spend more time indoors anyway, there may be less opportunity to go out for fresh fruit and vegetables, or its availability may be seasonally more limited. Seniors should take steps aimed directly at these potential deficits, by deliberately increasing exercise indoors, and by putting focused attention on ensuring dietary and nutritional needs are met.
Increased Social Isolation and Mood Issues – Once the temperatures get low and it becomes more difficult to go outdoors, seniors may find that they have less contact with others. This can lead to isolation, loneliness, and even depression. It is important to stay in touch with friends, neighbors and family members, even if only with a brief daily phone call or text message.