FIVE WINTER HAZARDS & HOW SENIORS CAN AVOID THEM
Poet T.S. Elliot wrote famously that “April is the cruelest month,” but many Americans affected by the recent snap of bitterly cold weather may beg to differ. For seniors in particular, wintertime presents several challenges and potential hazards. Fortunately, these hazards can usually be parried with a little knowledge and planning.
Here are five hazards of winters and strategies that seniors and caregivers can employ to help avoid them:
Snow, Cold and Ice
The most obvious perils of winter are from the weather itself:
1. Falls: Slips on ice are a major risk for seniors in winter, so it’s important to wear shoes with appropriate traction.
2. Driving: Snow and ice can present major dangers on the road. Seniors should avoid driving when road conditions are at their worst due to snow and ice, and those who do drive should be prepared for the conditions. Drive slowly. Make sure snow-tires are installed when appropriate, and keep blankets and food in the car should the vehicle be stranded or disabled.
3. Hypothermia and Frostbite: Cold temperatures can cause hypothermia and frostbite. According to Centers for Disease Control, more than half of hypothermia deaths are among seniors. Older adults who do venture outside in cold weather should make sure to dress warmly. Among some vulnerable seniors, hypothermia can even occur indoors if the air temperature in the home isn’t warm enough, so seniors should keep their thermostats above 65 degrees, and seek assistance if they lose heating in an emergency.
The very hazards that we outlined above can lead to seniors becoming socially isolated. If your older loved one has been spending a lot of time alone at home due to inclement weather, try to visit and spend extra time there. You can also arrange transportation to the local senior center, your loved one’s place of worship, and to other places where opportunities to socialize are available.
With winter comes the flu, which seniors are especially susceptible to developing because of weakened immune systems. The flu causes a significant number of fatalities among seniors each year, and it can also lead to secondary infections such as pneumonia.
For our article Senior Flu Prevention, we got in touch with Dr.W. Paul McKinney, associate dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Louisville. McKinney told us, “They [seniors] should make every reasonable effort to get vaccinated early in flu season,” adding that even seniors who feel robust enough to fend off the flu should be vaccinated: “There is no reason a healthy senior should defer a vaccine,” McKinney says. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or “the Wintertime Blues” Many people experience a decrease in mood and energy during the winter, which is caused by decreased daytime light in winter. This phenomenon is known as “seasonal affective disorder” or “SAD”.
Those who live in northern states (where daytime is shorter) are at highest risk. Open curtains and blinds during winter to let natural lighting in. Light therapy, using full-spectrum lights available at many box stores, can also be used to prevent or alleviate the winter time blues. Seniors experiencing depression should talk to their doctors.
Decreased Daylight, Dementia and Sundowning
Seniors with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia sometimes experience sundowners syndrome, which manifests itself as increased memory loss, confusion, agitation, and even anger during the evening hours. Sundowning is often exacerbated during the low-light conditions of winter, because the season’s low light can disrupt our body’s internal day/night clock (known as circadian rhythms). Quoted in a recent post about sun downing and daylight saving time, Dr. Lindsay Jones-Born told us, “seasonality can definitely impact symptoms, which is why it’s so important to maintain a regular schedule and do things to lessen the impact of loss of light for these individuals.” Our in-depth article on sundowners syndrome lists a number of steps that family caregivers can use to prevent or minimize sun downing, such as establishing a routing, letting light in to the home, and promoting a relaxing environment in the evening (for example, by reducing noise).
Source: Jeff Anderson, A Place for Mom