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Winter Safety Tips for Seniors
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Winters in Canada can be brutal. Freezing temperatures, snow storms and icy sidewalks make winter a hard slog for all of us, but especially for seniors.
Here are some tips for coping with common winter challenges.
Dealing With Ice
It’s easy to lose your balance on an icy street, resulting in a fall. While younger people tend to recover fairly quickly from a slip-and-fall injury, older adults may face further complications. According to a report by Statistics Canada, falls are the most common cause of injury among older Canadians. What’s more, over one-third of seniors who are hospitalized as a result of a fall are placed in long-term care.
Here are some precautions to take on icy roads and sidewalks:
- Clear away snow and salt your walkways at home, or hire someone to do it.
- Wear boots with non-skid soles – this helps prevent you from slipping.
- If you use a cane, replace the rubber tip before it is worn smooth. Consider an ice pick-like attachment that fits onto the end of the cane for additional traction.
Exposure to cold temperatures can result in frostbite and hypothermia. Usually, when parts of your body get too cold, they turn red and hurt. Symptoms of frostbite, however, include a loss of feeling and lack of color. Hypothermia is when the body's temperature dips below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Warning signs include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness, and obvious exhaustion. Anyone showing signs of frost bite or hypothermia should seek medical attention immediately.
Be sure to dress for the cold. Cover as much exposed skin as possible. Your body's extremities, such as the ears, nose, fingers and toes lose heat the fastest.
Remember that physical exertion in cold weather adds extra pressure on your heart, so work slowly with frequent rest breaks. Shovelling can also be dangerous if you have problems with balance or have osteoporosis. If you are in a high risk group, consider a snow removal service or call on the assistance of neighbours and local students. Click here for more snow shovelling tips.
Get a Tune-Up
Winter driving can be hazardous for all motorists, but it can be even more difficult for older people, who may be infrequent motorists, or lack the quick reflexes of the young. Be sure to get your car to the garage for a winter tune-up, and invest in snow tires. Consider joining the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), so that you are assured of assistance in case of roadside emergencies.
Healthy Home Heating
Set your thermostat at 20 to 23 degrees Celsius – higher temperatures can result in dry skin and nasal passages, and bigger heating bills.
Burning a carbon-based fuel, such as wood, natural gas and propane, releases carbon monoxide. This is a gas that cannot be seen or smelled, and it can kill if fireplaces and stoves are not properly vented and maintained. Make sure your carbon monoxide detector is in good condition with working batteries intact.
Place space heaters at least three feet away from anything that can catch on fire, including curtains, bedding and furniture.
Prepare for Storms
Keep an eye on the weather forecast so that you are ready for winter storms. Severe weather can cause power outages, leading to the spoilage of perishable foods in refrigerators and freezers as well as increasing the risk of frostbite and hypothermia.
In preparation for a major storm, seniors should have:
- An emergency supply of non-perishable foods
- Necessary medications
- Warm blankets
- Food and supplies for pets
- Battery-powered light sources and a radio
Harsh weather can keep seniors isolated at home. Help prevent loneliness and the winter blues by keeping in touch with others, via phone calls, visits and other social occasions. Staying connected helps trigger the body’s natural mood lifters, easing feelings of depression.