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7 Winter Safety Tips for Older Adults

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Although the groundhog Punxsutawney Phil “predicted” an early spring, the threat of severe winter weather is not over. According to the National Library of Medicine, 63% of temperature-related deaths are caused by exposure to cold. As the season progresses, it is important to stay #WinterReady and prepare for the potential risks and hazards that come with it. 

If you are, or care for an older adult, preparedness is crucial to staying safe during winter weather. Winter storms and cold weather can make it harder to stay warm, making you vulnerable and can lead to dangerous health issues. Moreover, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that approximately 85% of older adults in the U.S. have at least one chronic disease which may increase their risk. Additionally, severe winter weather like snowstorms or ice can make it difficult or impossible to get critical healthcare services.

To ensure you or the older adults you care for are #WinterReady, it is crucial to create a personalized toolkit that assesses your needs, helps you develop a plan and engages your support network. 

By following these tips, you can be prepared and alert this winter.

Avoiding Falls in Cold Weather

When entering your home, make sure you:

  • Dry the wheels or tips of each walking aid before entering your home.
  • Keep the entryway clear of clutter to avoid slipping or tripping. Use ice melt or sand to clear outside walkways.
  • Keep a small table or shelf near the entry door to put items while unlocking the door. 
  • Use a different entrance if your home’s main entrance is often icy during winter.
  • If possible, stay inside when the weather is bad. Consider delivery services for prescriptions, groceries and other necessities. 

When outside your home, make sure you:

  • Avoid shoveling snow yourself when possible. There is a risk of heart attack for older adults while shoveling snow.
  • Use railings to help avoid slipping on icy stairs and walkways.
  • Wear nonskid, rubber-soled, low-heeled footwear.
  • Ensure outdoor areas are well-lit.

Be Aware of Hypothermia 

Hypothermia occurs when the body's temperature drops below 95°F due to exposure to cold temperatures. It can lead to serious health problems such as irregular heartbeat and damage to organs. It can also happen at cool temperatures if you become chilled from rain, sweat or cold water.

It is important to be aware of warning signs and early symptoms, including:

  • Cold feet and hands
  • Puffy or swollen face
  • Pale skin
  • Shivering or shaking
  • Slowed or slurred speech
  • Feeling sleepy, angry, or confused

If someone is showing signs of hypothermia, call 911 right away. Try to move the person to a warmer place, offer them a warm drink, and wrap them in dry blankets, towels or coats.

Medical Conditions and Cold Weather

If you have the following medical conditions or are caring for someone with these conditions, take extra precautions during cold weather.

  • Diabetes can prevent blood from flowing normally to provide warmth.
  • Thyroid problems can impact the body’s ability to maintain an average body temperature.
  • Parkinson’s disease and arthritis can make it challenging to put on more clothes, use a blanket or get out of the cold.
  • Memory problems can cause a person to forget to take precautions for staying weather-safe, such as wearing appropriate attire.

Some medications can affect body heat, too. These include prescription medications and those bought over the counter, such as some cold medicines. Ask your doctor if your medications may impact body heat and what you can do.

Stay Warm During a Power Outage

Heavy snow and extreme weather conditions can cause power outages. Below are some things to consider during a power outage.

  • Generator safety. If you use a generator during a power outage, be mindful of the risks. Carbon monoxide poisoning has unfortunately caused deaths during these extended power outages. Know how to stay safe and NEVER use a generator inside a home, basement, shed or garage, even if doors and windows are open.
  • Stay informed. Follow a local station on a battery-powered radio for updated emergency information.
  • Preserve heat. Close blinds or curtains to retain as much heat as possible. Close off unused rooms to avoid wasting heat, and stuff towels or rags in cracks under doors.
  • Stay warm. Layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing will keep you warmer than a bulky sweater.
  • Eat regularly. Food provides the body with energy for producing its own heat. Drink liquids such as warm broth or juice. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.

Create a Winter Emergency Plan 

During extreme winter weather, older adults may face limited access to healthcare services, leading to an increased likelihood of hospitalization. Stay informed and create a plan by: 

  • Assessing your needs before creating a plan to ensure your toolkit is specified for you. 
  • Using the worksheets and checklists in the Take Control in 1, 2, 3—Disaster Preparedness Guide for Older Adults to create your plan, then add it to your emergency kit or put it on your refrigerator as a visible reminder that you are prepared.
  • Signing up for alerts on the FEMA AppWeather.gov or your local weather channels.
  • Engaging your support network if you need help clearing ice and snow from your property to keep outside walkways and steps clear of snow and ice.
  • Having the name and contact information of a nearby family member or friend who can regularly check in on you.
  • Making sure at least one person in your support network has an extra key to your home, knows where you keep your emergency supplies, and knows how to use lifesaving equipment or administer medicine.

Staying Warm Indoors

According to the National Institute on Aging, about 20% of injuries related to exposure to cold occur in the home. Here are some tips to help keep warm:

  • Set your heat to at least 68°F. Even mildly cool homes with temperatures from 60 to 65°F can lead to hypothermia in older adults.
  • Use draft stoppers or towels under windows and doors to prevent cold air from seeping in.
  • Wear layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing.
  • Use blankets and throws to keep warm.
  • Drink warm liquids like tea or hot cocoa.
  • Eat hot meals and snacks throughout the day.
  • Stay active and move around to generate body heat.
  • Use heating pads or hot water bottles to warm up cold feet or hands.

Energy and Food Assistance Programs for Older Adults

To learn more about conditions in your area, and to request help, check with your local officials or dial 2-1-1 to get information about local resources and services or visit 211.org.

There is always time to create a winter emergency plan and take steps to ensure you are #WinterReady. Take steps today and prepare for the potential risks and hazards that come with winter weather to keep yourself safe and healthy during the colder months. 

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