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Tips to help seniors cope with cold weather

January 20, 2019

Although there’s nothing like being outside on a crispy, cold day and playing in the snow with the grandkids, cold weather can be hard on you if you are over 65. So, to keep you outside as much and as safely as possible, we’ve prepared this handy senior guide on how to hold your own in winter weather.

Guard against hypothermia

You can lose body heat fast if you are older, especially if you have underlying health conditions like arthritis or diabetes or are taking over-the-counter cold medications. This means that even after relatively short exposure to cold weather or a slight drop in temperature, you could develop hypothermia, which can lead to heart attacks, kidney problems or liver damage.

On very cold days—especially when it’s windy out as well—the best plan of action might simply be to stay indoors. If you do go out, put on a heavy coat, wearing loose-fitting, layered clothing underneath (the air between the layers helps to keep you warm). Make sure to wear a scarf and hat as well as mittens which tend to be warmer than gloves. Head indoors if you start shivering, as it’s a warning sign that you’re losing body heat— but don’t rely on shivering alone as a sign of hypothermia, since older people tend to shiver less when their body temperature drops. Other hypothermia symptoms to watch out for include dizziness, lack of coordination, slurred speech or mumbling, confusion, and an increased heart rate

Note: Seniors can develop hypothermia indoors if temperatures are between 60 and 65 degrees, so make sure to set your home’s thermostat at least 68 degrees.

Cover your skin

Seniors are also more susceptible than other adults to frostbite, which can occur when the skin and body tissues are exposed to extreme cold for as little as 30 minutes. Typically affecting the smaller, more exposed areas of the body (fingers, toes, nose, ears and cheeks), signs of frostbite include red, white, pale or grayish-yellow skin; hard or waxy-looking skin; a cold or burning feeling; numbness.

Cover up all parts of your body when you go outside in extreme cold, and if your skin turns red or dark or starts hurting, go inside right away.

Be vigilant around ice

Falls are the number one reason seniors are admitted to the hospitals for trauma, so you need to exercise caution whenever it’s icy or snowy out. When it comes to footwear, think safety instead of fashion—this means boots with low heels and non-skid soles. Putting cleated anti-slip ice grips over your boots can provide even better traction on treacherous ice. In addition, always walk as much as possible on cleared sidewalks and roads, hold handrails on stairs, add traction strips to steps and put sand or salt on walkways. Consider using a cane to help maintain balance (make sure the tip is sturdy or buy an ice pick-like attachment that fits onto the end).

Keep safe while shoveling

When it’s cold, your heart works extra hard to keep you warm, meaning that sudden exertion such as shoveling snow could bring on a heart attack. (In fact, according to the American Heart Association, even walking through heavy, wet snow or snow drifts can be a strain on the heart.) Always ask your healthcare provider if it’s safe for you to shovel snow. If the answer is “yes,” make sure to take frequent rest breaks and avoid drinking alcohol before or immediately after shoveling. If you have any concerns whatsoever, hire someone to shovel your driveway for you.

Drink lots of water

Dehydration is another frequent causes of hospitalization among seniors, who generally have a less acute thirst sense than other adults. And even though you’re not in the blazing summer sun, you still need to drink at least six to eight cups of water per day. Heated indoor air can cause your skin to lose moisture, increasing your daily fluid requirements, and you may need extra water if you exercise or exert yourself while wearing insulated clothing. Signs of dehydration include dizziness or lightheadedness.

Winter does come with a set of wellness challenges for older adults, but if you’ve got awareness and common sense and take basic precautions, there’s no reason not to enjoy life no matter what time of year.

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