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Winter 101: How To Stay Warm and Healthy This Winter

happy and healthy senior couple building snowman during cold winter

Winter: it’s a season filled with gently falling snow, idyllic landscape settings and winter holidays that draw friends and family close. For some seniors, however, winter isn’t exactly a wonderland.

For many seniors, winter is a dangerous time. From cold weather to slippery ice and snow, winter is rife with potential pitfalls and dangers for aging individuals. Fortunately, there are many ways seniors can survive and thrive throughout the entire winter season.

Here are some helpful tips to make winter fun and safe for seniors everywhere:

1) Get rid of slippery ice

Ice is one of the primary health risks for seniors during the wintertime. According to Dr. Stanley Wang, a doctor at Stanford Hospital, falls are a common occurrence during the winter months and are actually a leading cause of death for seniors over the age of 65. Often, these falls cause serious injuries such as broken hips, concussions and fractures in the hands and arms. While everyone is at risk of falling on the ice, younger people recover quicker and are less likely to suffer secondary complications from a fall.

With this in mind, it’s obvious that mitigating fall risk is an important factor in keeping seniors safe and healthy during the winter months. To decrease the risk of falls, seniors should wear shoes with good traction and should stay inside during icy conditions. To provide more traction, seniors can buy strap-on traction assistants like “Yaktrax” or other products that grip the bottom of the shoes and provide small ice picks for stability on icy sidewalks. Additionally, seniors can enlist a friend or relative to spread deicer on sidewalks leading to and from the house or other important areas like the garage or mailbox. Additionally, shoes should be taken off at the door in order to prevent tracking snow and ice inside, leading to slippery pools of water indoors.

2) Dress for the elements

Cold is a serious risk for seniors and, when seniors are exposed to the cold for long periods of time, serious complications can develop. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 50% of all hypothermia and frostbite-related deaths occur in people over the age of 65.

This is due to the fact that, while frostbite and hypothermia are dangerous for everyone, seniors have less ability to “bounce back” and often suffer secondary complications like pneumonia and infections. To mitigate these risks, seniors should dress warmly every time they go outside. This means donning heavy socks, a warm coat and hat, gloves and a scarf. Additionally, it’s important to consider the material of the clothing seniors wear. Wool is warmer than cotton and layering should be used to offer comfort and temperature control during chilly temperatures. Ideally, the body temperature should never dip below 95 degrees.

3) Avoid the wintertime blues

Winter is typically a dark and gloomy season, which can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and other depressive symptoms. In order to avoid wintertime depression, seniors need to make sure that they’re getting enough Vitamin D. If it’s tough to get out in the sun, seniors can purchase a “happy lamp” that emits UV rays. Ideal for reading under, these lamps can provide a vitamin D boost that can boost mood and help avoid blues.

Additionally, winter makes getting around harder, which can contribute to social isolation and a lack of interaction with other people. To avoid these problems, family members should check on seniors regularly and seniors should stay in touch with friends and family via phone calls when the roads are too dangerous to drive.

Finally, wintertime is chock full of winter holidays, which can be a great time for seniors to volunteer and get involved in their communities. Donating time at a soup kitchen or warming shelter can be ideal for seniors who want to be social and give back to the community at the same time.

4) Make sure the car is prepared for cold weather

There’s nothing worse that a car malfunction at -10 degrees. In order to avoid being stranded in cold weather, it’s important for seniors to ensure that the car is in good working order. This means checking oil levels, antifreeze, battery life and wipers and ensuring that the car is outfitted with good winter tires.

Additionally, seniors should ensure their AAA membership is current in order to facilitate easy tows and roadside assistance. If these things are too difficult for the senior, a friend or family member can take the car to the shop instead.

5) Prep for snow days

While snow days were fun as a child, they’re a lot less fun when you’re locked in the house and can’t get out. Because of this, it’s wise for seniors to prepare for power outages and being snowed in. This means having an ample stock of food on hand and ensuring that there are enough warm blankets and clothing around to hold the senior through a chilly power outage.

Additionally, the senior should have access to things like flashlights, a battery-powered radio, fire starters, matches and emergency blankets. If the senior’s house is equipped with a wood-burning stove, there should be ample firewood chopped and stacked in a place where the senior can reach it even if snow gets deep.

6) Avoid carbon monoxide

Fireplaces and gas heaters can emit carbon dioxide, which, if left unchecked, can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. In order to avoid this, install a carbon monoxide detector in the house and ensure that the batteries are fresh at all times. This simple step can help save a life during winter weather.

7) Ensure good nutrition

In addition to causing SAD, Vitamin D deficiency can also lead to a whole host of other health issues. In order to avoid these things, seniors should be careful to eat a varied and nutrient-dense diet full of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seafood like tuna or salmon. Seniors who need additional vitamins should see their doctors to choose a multi-vitamin supplement.

8) Drink enough water

During the winter months, seniors drink less water simply because it’s not hot out anymore. Unfortunately, the risk of dehydration still exists and failure to consume enough water can cause or exacerbate memory loss symptoms or confusion. To mitigate this, seniors should drink at least eight glasses of water each day, even when the weather outside is frightful.

9) Keep the house warm

In the winter, heating bills can be expensive, but it’s imperative for seniors to keep the house as warm as it needs to be in order for them to be comfortable. Burning wood is an effective way to do this in houses that are outfitted for it. Space heaters can be positioned in cold rooms to provide an extra burst of heat (although they can be a fire risk and should not be used by seniors with memory loss or dementia). For seniors that need help with their energy bills or heating costs, states often run assistance programs designed to help with winter heating and utility costs, so nobody has to go cold.

While winter is a chilly time, these simple tips can help seniors stay healthy, warm, and safe all throughout the winter season.