Winter is here, at least for a little longer. When temperatures take a dip, older adults run a greater risk of health issues and injuries related to the weather. Winter weather affects your health, but it’s not just the cold that you need to worry about. Here are a few winter health hazards older adults should be on the lookout for this season.
1. Falls Inside and Outside of the Home
Snow and ice are the most obvious threat to balance, but steps can be taken to reduce you or your loved one’s risk of a slip and fall. Keep sidewalks and walkways clear, and cover them with salt or ice melt. Wear shoes or boots with textured, non-slip soles that can better grip surfaces. Replace a worn out cane tip with a new one. Use handrails, even if you don’t think you need to, and take your time getting around. In some cases, walking on icy, slippery surfaces may not be worth the risk.
But the outdoors isn’t the only place where you need to worry about a fall. The indoors pose many risks too. According to the National Institute on Aging, 60% of falls happen in the home. Melting snow and ice from shoes and on hard floors are especially dangerous. Shoes should be removed immediately after coming inside and set on a mat or towel by the door to dry, far from any walkways.
Additionally, with fewer hours of daylight, you or your loved one may need brighter lights in the home. Make sure rooms are well-lit and plug in nightlights in hallways and bathrooms.
2. Heart Problems
During winter, your heart has to work a lot harder to keep your body warm, and the older we get, the more difficult it is for our bodies to regulate body temperature. Cold weather narrows the blood vessels, increasing heart rate and blood pressure as the heart works even harder to keep blood pumping through the body. The tissue in the walls of arteries stretches as a result and can become damaged. Plaque buildup at these damaged parts of the arteries can also tear and lead to dangerous blood clots that could cause a heart attack or stroke.
If you or your loved one has heart issues, do not shovel snow, as the sudden exertion from such a strenuous activity can cause a heart attack. Additionally, lack of exposure to sunlight can also increase blood pressure in “temperature-sensitive people.”
3. The Flu
Winter wreaks havoc on the immune system, which is particularly dangerous for older adults with already weakened immune systems. More time spent indoors, breathing stale air and within close contact of others means the flu, coughs and colds are spread more easily.
Stay healthy by preventing illness in the first place. Get a flu shot, wash your hands, eat a healthy, balanced diet, cough and sneeze into the crook of your elbow, don’t be around sick people unless to have to and disinfect surfaces often.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people over the age of 65 are most at risk of hypothermia-related death due to low metabolism and poor circulation. To prevent your body temperature from dropping below 95 degrees, dress in layers and cover all exposed skin before going outside.
Symptoms of hypothermia include stiffness in the neck, arms and legs, lack of coordination, mental confusion, slowed reactions, shivering and fatigue. Call 911 if you think you or someone you know is suffering from hypothermia.
5. The Winter Blues
Less exposure to natural sunlight and more time spent indoors can lead to feelings of sadness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating and excessive sleepiness. Winter weather also makes it harder to get around, which can bring on feelings of loneliness and isolation. It’s the winter blues - or seasonal affective disorder.
Family members should check in on older loved ones often, even if it’s a short, daily phone call. In many cases, the winter blues can be relieved with a daytime walk outside, but if you or your loved one is struggling, talk to a doctor. Light therapy, counseling and antidepressants can help you cope.
6. Dry Skin
Chilly temperatures and dry air can leave skin feeling dehydrated. To prevent winter itch, apply thicker creams and lotions, especially after bathing. Stop skin from drying out further by showering with lukewarm water, not scalding hot.
You may even want to invest in a humidifier that will put moisture back into the air. In addition to replenishing moisture in your skin, it will also help replenish moisture in your sinuses and better equip your body to fight off bacteria and viruses.
7. Lung Problems
For people with asthma, bronchitis, emphysema or COPD, cold air can mean big trouble. Cold air causes airways to tighten, making it harder to breathe. Cover your mouth and nose with a scarf or face mask if you’re heading out into the cold. Try to breathe in through your nose too, as it will help warm and humidify cold air before it gets to your lungs.
Make sure you and your loved ones are taking care of yourselves this winter. If your aging loved one lives alone, it’s especially important to be vigilant of their well-being. If you have concerns about their health and ability to be independent, now might be the time to learn more about how an in-home care service can help. A caregiver can help your loved one age in place while helping them by shoveling snow, monitoring medication and keeping them healthy during cold winter months - and you’ll feel assured knowing that they’re receiving the same quality care you would provide.
Contact Bluebird Homecare to learn more about how we can help you and your family.