Most people find winter to be the most challenging season to deal with, especially living in Canada. Canadian winters typically bring a diverse range of harsh weather conditions and extreme temperatures. One of the biggest complaints about the winter season is how long it is. If you are not into winter outdoor activities, the season can seem to take forever to get through. It can also be very strenuous for older adults with mobility issues and health conditions that are exacerbated by the cold weather. Everything from slippery sidewalks to inflamed arthritis can make winter an unpleasant time of year for seniors.
Winter Hazards for Seniors
There are several winter conditions that can make the season a strenuous one for older adults. Some of the things that may put seniors at risk this winter, may include:
- Risk of falls
- Hypothermia and pneumonia
- Cold and flu
- Car accidents
- Power outages
- Lack of exercise and nutrition
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
Risk of Falls
Risks of falling outside on the icy streets and sidewalks is the greatest health concern for older adults. On an annual basis, 1 in 3 seniors experiences injury due to a fall, and the winter months increase that risk.
Seniors are at a greater risk of getting injured in fall during the winter for several reasons. One reason is poor circulation that can cause feet to lose feeling and sensation. Many seniors are less active during the winter which leads to decreased blood flow. Arthritis and other health conditions can also contribute to reduced feeling in the feet, which can impede mobility and balance. Medications can also play a role, with side effects causing dizziness or instability.
Hypothermia and Pneumonia
Frigid temperatures can pose all sorts of health risks for older adults. Prolonged exposure to cold can result in frostbite or hypothermia without the proper winter attire. With age, our bodies become more sensitive to cold temperatures, and we can no longer generate enough heat to maintain a normal body temperature in the face of extreme cold.
A weakened immune system can also make seniors more susceptible to contracting infections like pneumonia, colds, and flus.
Cold and Flu
Winter is the season for cold and flu outbreak, and seniors are at a greater risk for catching these ailments. Once again, a depleted immune system is generally to blame, no longer having the strength to fight off these adaptable viruses.
Driving during the winter becomes more dangerous for all vehicle operators, regardless of age. Seniors with slower reflexes and reduced driving frequency are at a higher risk of getting into a car accident. Driving in harsh conditions should be avoided if at all possible.
Winter also brings with it a higher prevalence of power outages, which also increases risks of falls in the home and other injuries that could be the result of a poorly lit environment. Power outages also mean no heat, unless a heater can be run off a generator, so it is important to bundle up to avoid hypothermia.
Lack of Exercise and Nutrition
People in general just tend to get outside less during the winter. This can lead to a sedentary lifestyle if you don’t have some beneficial indoor activity to stay physically active. Getting out less also usually means less frequent trips to the grocery store, and settling for processed foods that offer little nutritional value.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
This is a less common winter health risk, but for homes with fireplaces or gas stoves, it can lead to over exposure of carbon monoxide. Be sure to have a functional carbon monoxide tester in the home if that is the case.
Tips and Suggestions for Seniors to Stay Safe During the Winter
There many useful practices to engage in when the winter hits, to stay healthy and safe. Some of the most helpful winter tips for seniors, may be:
- Wear warm and high traction footwear outdoors
- Stay active with some indoor physical activity
- Secure the home for winter
- Weatherproof windows and doors
- Change the furnace filter
- Clean fireplaces and chimneys
- Clear ample walkways and remove trip hazards
- Put down ice melt on outdoor walkways
- Make sure there are back up blankets and heaters available
- Wear appropriate winter clothing, including warm gloves and hat
- Get vaccinated for flu and pneumonia
- Drive only when necessary
- Maintain a nutritious diet
- Stay social to avoid isolation and depression
- Get assistance from professional home caregivers for extra support