Insightsthe blog of Porter Hills
Simple Winter Safety for Seniors
Jack Hart, DPT
Porter Hills Home Care
Watch the Senior Wellness Segment on this topic.
With the winter months come ice, snow, and hazardous weather. These winter conditions can be inconveniencing at best, and downright dangerous at their worst. Older adults, in particular, are at risk in many of the harsher elements of the winter season, and taking preventative steps to ensure they stay happy and healthy through the long winter months can be critical.
Preventing Falls in the Winter Months
From broken bones to concussions, slipping and falling on the ice or snow can result in serious injury for the healthiest and most physically fit of us. When it comes to falls in older adults, especially those who are physically frail, what seems like “just” a broken bone may actually lead to serious health consequences, and even death. In fact, falls are the leading cause of injury and death in older Americans. When an older adult falls and breaks his/her hip, s/he will inevitably end up in the hospital for an extended stay, depending on what is required to treat the fracture. Where the true danger lies is when an already physically frail person is confined to a hospital bed without the ability to walk on his/her healing limb, the risk for complicating medical issues such as contracting pneumonia or developing bed sores dramatically increases. These and other hospital-acquired infections can lead to a vicious cycle of inactivity and worsening health that may ultimately result in death.
- Replace any worn cane tips. Consider a cane tip specifically designed for icy conditions when walking outdoors.
- Keep walkways and handrails clear of ice and snow.
- Ensure footwear has appropriate non-skid soles. Consider adding slip-on traction cleats, such as Yaktrax, when walking outdoors.
- Take off your shoes when coming indoors, or switch to an “indoor only” pair to prevent tracked-in melted snow/ice turning into a slip hazard.
- If you are afraid of falling, or have a history of falling, talk to your physician about your concerns. Your healthcare team, including your physical therapist, can provide balance training treatments to make you feel more secure on your feet, and help prevent future falls.
Age-related changes, underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, and even some medications can diminish the body’s ability to regulate a healthy temperature when exposed to the cold. This puts many older adults at an increased risk of developing hypothermia or frostbite. To help prevent this:
- Wear 2-3 layers of loose-fitting clothing to help trap warm air.
- Stay completely covered when going outside by always wearing a hat, gloves/mittens, and a scarf.
- When indoors, use blankets, and consider wearing socks, slippers, long underwear, and perhaps even a hat if your home is particularly cold. Some experts recommend a home temperature of at least 68°F for older adults.
Many older adults who are also physically frail are more likely to be homebound, especially during the winter. Ensuring that the their home is safe, and that they are prepared for the worst that the winter months have to offer is key.
Emergency Plan for Power Outages
- Keep an eye on weather reports for any impending severe weather.
- Ensure that any electric medical devices, as well as flashlights, radios, cell phones have a sufficient supply of batteries.
- Ensure food supplies, prescription medications, and any supplemental oxygen supplies are sufficient to last through several days without power.
- Keep a written list nearby of doctors, friends, and relatives, with current phone numbers to call in case of an emergency.
Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
- Ensure any space heaters are working properly, and are plugged directly into the wall, rather than an extension cord or power strip, as they can increase the risk for overheating and electrical shock.
- Have your fireplace inspected by a professional to ensure sufficient ventilation.
- Ensure carbon monoxide alarms are properly installed and functioning.
Prevent Isolation and Loneliness
Feelings of isolation and loneliness, as well as depression, are far too common among older adults. The winter months can easily worsen these conditions, though social contact can help alleviate the symptoms or prevent them altogether.
- Have a check-in system with a nearby friend or neighbor, touching base with each other every day.
- If you have a friend, relative, or neighbor who is an older adult, stop by, or at least call on a regular basis to let them know you are thinking of them, and are available to help.
- Talk to your healthcare team about these feelings, especially if they are worsening.
Ask for Help
Whether it be a fear of falling, or concerns about your home’s readiness for a potential weather emergency during the winter months, never hesitate to reach out to your healthcare team for help! There are many different public and private organizations developed especially for helping older adults for these very issues, and trying to navigate them alone can be overwhelming. Your healthcare team is designed to help you in all aspects of life, including ensuring your health and wellness during the daunting winter season.
With the right in-home care, you can continue to enjoy the comfort, convenience and savings of staying at home as you age. Porter Hills Home Care leads the region in new technologies and practices that help older adults follow their doctors’ plan of care while at home, and make this choice with confidence.
To schedule a visit, or for more information, please call us at 616-949-5140 or send us a message.