Cold Weather Safety for the Elderly

I am sure some of you have thought to yourselves recently “Man its cold outside.”  When temperature readings drop the elderly run a greater risk for health problems and injuries including but not limited to: falls on the ice and snow, hypothermia and frostbite.  As we age, our bodies lose the ability to maintain appropriate temperatures.  Hypothermia in the elderly can set in when body temperatures drop below 95 degrees.   Being outside or living in a cold home, apartment or building can cause hypothermia.  As we experience one of the first winter storms for the season in Northeast Iowa, keep in mind some of these great tips to keeping your elderly loved ones safe in the cold.

Preventing Falls- Make sure to wear shoes that have good traction with non-skid soles when going outside.  Stay inside until roads or sidewalks are clear, be especially careful on wet pavement that could be iced over.  Replace worn tips on canes or walkers to prevent slipping and making walking easier.  Remove shoes immediately when you return indoors as snow and ice can stick to the soles making all flooring types slippery when wet.    

Keep warm inside- Keep indoor temperatures or thermostats set at 65 degrees or warmer.  Make sure your home is not losing heat through windows and if so, pull curtains closed, caulk cracks or apply plastic sheets.  Dress warm on cold days even if you are staying in the house.  Use long underwear or extra blankets when you go to sleep.  Eat enough food to keep up your body weight and fat deposits to help you stay warm.  Avoid alcohol. Ask family or friends to check in on you during cold weather.  Prepare and stock emergency kits for power outages.  

Keeping warm outside- Stay indoors or when unavoidable stay outdoors for short periods of time.  Dress smart in cold weather using hats, gloves, mittens, winter coats, boots and scarves as well as layering your clothing as this can keep you warmer than one single thick layer.  Protect your lungs from cold air with a scarf.  Stay dry because wet clothing chills the body more quickly. 

Preventing fires and carbon monoxide poisoning- During the winter it is common to use a fireplace, space heaters or other heating sources such as natural gas or kerosene.  Proper cleaning, inspection and ventilation is needed to prevent dangerous accumulations of carbon monoxide.  Have chimneys inspected annually.  Crack windows open when using kerosene heaters and make sure they are at least 3 feet away from anything that may easily catch fire.  Place battery operated smoke and carbon monoxide detectors throughout the home.  

In addition to physical health risks, older individuals may be more likely to suffer from loneliness and depression during the wither months.  Remember to check in on your loved ones often, even a phone call can make a difference!

Katy Wood, RN Director of Assisted Living