The winter months can be quite difficult for our older friends and loved ones, with colder temperatures, icy conditions and wintertime illnesses posing the greatest threats to their safety. Fortunately, most wintertime casualties can be prevented. Caregivers and family members should be particularly watchful of seniors in their care during this time of year—and seniors living on their own should take extra precautions to avoid illness and mishaps. Let’s discuss some of the common dangers the elderly face in wintertime and what steps we can take to keep them safe.
Common Winter Threats to Senior Safety
Seniors may be vulnerable to many different factors during the winter months, but generally speaking, we can identify three main categories of danger.
Slips and falls. Seniors are more prone to falling than the average adult at any time of year. However, winter, snow, and ice on walkways and roadways amplify this threat greatly. A young person falling on ice may suffer scrapes and bruises, but for an elderly person, a fall can be fatal. In fact, the CDC says one in four Americans over age 65 experiences at least one fall per year, and falls are the leading cause of fatality among seniors in general.
Hypothermia. Cold weather kills thousands of people per year, but due to reduced body mass and decreased circulation, older adults are especially vulnerable. Between 2003 and 2013, hypothermia death rates in America were 1.8 per 100,000 for men aged 65+, and 1.1 for women, far exceeding the national average of 0.3 to 0.5 per 100,000. Power outages obviously enhance this risk, but sometimes budget-conscious seniors also put themselves at risk by keeping thermostats too low in their homes during the winter months.
Illness. For the average adult, the cold-and-flu season is par for the course. For the elderly with lowered immune systems, this season can be deadly. Nearly 80,000 people in America died of influenza last year, and AARP says about 80 percent of those fatalities were in people over age 65.
Keeping Seniors Safe
Understanding the increased risks to the elderly during the winter months, what can we all do to help keep them safer? Some tips that may help:
- Avoid slippery conditions. Discourage seniors to venture outside during icy/snowy conditions. If they must venture out, keep walkways and driveways clear of snow and ice using shovels and de-icer. Seniors should wear shoes with good traction at all times during colder months to protect against the stray patch of “black ice.” Always try to accompany the elderly while walking in wintry conditions.
- Keep thermostats set. 68 degrees Fahrenheit is the recommended minimum temperature for most homes in winter. Seniors may need the thermostat set a bit higher to be more comfortable, but not lower. Caregivers and loved ones can take steps to seal drafts and improve home energy efficiency, and seniors may be eligible for local programs to subsidize energy costs. Other ways to keep warm—keep an ample supply of throw blankets and get up and walk every so often to keep the circulation going.
- Medical experts across the board recommend an annual flu shot for senior adults.
- Check-in regularly with the elderly. If you know an elderly person who lives alone, stop in regularly to make sure they are warm enough and taking care of themselves. (Daily visits would be greatly appreciated, if possible.) If the power goes out, arrange for temporary shelter for them first and foremost, as soon as possible.
Winter can be deadly for seniors, but it doesn’t have to be. In most cases, simply by being proactive and aware, we can protect our aging friends, neighbors and loved ones from the dangers of the winter months. If you have a loved one in need of assisted living care in the Wilmington area, Lodge Lane is here to help. Call 302-757-8100 for more information.