Winter Safety Tips for Older Adults
Southfield, MI (January 3, 2014) — As southeast Michigan braces for extremely cold winter, the Area Agency on Aging 1-B (AAA 1-B) would like to remind you to check in on elderly neighbors, especially if they live alone. Cold weather can pose serious health hazards for older adults. Falls and other accidents, hypothermia and depression, are more common as the temperature drops. If you are a senior and live alone, arrange for a daily check-in call with a friend, neighbor, or relative. A quick call can be so important. Also consider these tips to stay safe this season:
Prevent Falling on the Ice:
- Stretch before going outside. Stretching improves circulation and limbers muscles.
- Wear shoes with a good grip if you need to go outside on cold days.
- Stick to cleared sidewalks and roads. Shovel snow and sprinkle sand or salt on icy areas – or ask someone to do it for you.
- Use assistive devices when necessary. Hold handrails on stairs. Use a cane or walker if necessary to help maintain balance.
- Avoid going outside when conditions are poor. Stock up on necessities in good weather, or ask someone to deliver them to you.
Stay Warm. As people age, conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, poor circulation, paralysis caused by stroke and many others can cause lack of feeling, especially in the extremities. A diminished response to cold can put seniors at an even higher risk for hypothermia (abnormally low body temperature). To prevent hypothermia:
- Keep your home’s thermostat set at or above 68 degrees F.
- Wear several light, loose layers of warm clothes to trap warm air between them. Use a blanket to keep legs and shoulders warm and wear a hat, socks, shoes or slippers.
- Also use extra blankets at night because hypothermia can develop during sleep.
- If paying your energy bill is a burden, you may be eligible for fuel assistance. Contact your energy company to find out if you qualify for winter protection program assistance.
- If you can’t get warm at home, visit a local Warming Center. These are public spaces where you can go to get out of the cold. To find the nearest Warming Center, call the AAA 1-B at (800) 852-7795.
Eat Nutritious Foods. Food provides the body with energy. Seniors who have difficulty preparing their own meals should call the AAA 1-B toll free at (800) 852-7795 to sign up to receive Meals on Wheels.
Keep Your Spirits High. Depression poses an increased threat to seniors during winter months. Inclement weather restricts activities and opportunities to mingle with others. Shorter days mean less sunlight. Socialize when you can. Arrange for a daily check-in call with a friend, neighbor, relative, etc., or visit with family or friends when possible. Contact the AAA 1-B, at 800-852-7795, for transportation services, senior centers and social activities.
Look For Signs of Hypothermia. Some people die of hypothermia because they or those around them do not recognize the symptoms. Here are some signs to watch for:
- Muscles: Muscles are often stiff, particularly in the neck, arms, and legs. This stiffness may be accompanied by a fine trembling, limited to only one side of the body, or one arm or leg.
- Shivering: Shivering is a sign that the body is having trouble keeping warm. The shivering response is frequently diminished in older adults, and the fact that an older person is not shivering in a cool or cold environment does not GUARANTEE that the person is not cold.
- Face: The face is frequently puffy or swollen, and this can be an important sign, especially when found in combination with cold skin and signs of confusion.
- Coordination: The person often has difficulty walking and has problems with balance. Look for poor coordination and jerky movements.
- Breathing and Heart Rate: Both are slowed at low body temperatures, and may be very difficult to detect in severe hypothermia.
- Consciousness: As the body cools, consciousness is depressed. Some hypothermia victims will still be conscious when their body temperatures are as low as 80 degrees. Remember, though, that “conscious” and “mental clarity” are two different things. A person can be “conscious and reactive” and yet still be in a confused, disoriented, and hypothermic state.
- Confusion: One of the first changes brought on by hypothermia is a growing mental confusion, which becomes progressively worse as body temperature falls. Logical thinking becomes impossible and the person may become completely disoriented. Memory is affected and familiar things are often forgotten.
- Attitude: Apathy is common. Often the person doesn’t care what happens and will do nothing to help reduce the danger; he or she may behave strangely, or become irritable, hostile, mean, and aggressive.
If you believe someone may be a victim of hypothermia, call 911 immediately. Hypothermia is a dangerous, complicated medical problem and the victim needs professional attention.
For resources and more information, contact the Area Agency on Aging 1-B at 800-852-7795.