Winter Weather Safety Tips

At Four Seasons, we care about your loved one’s safety. In this article, you’ll find tips for keeping your aging loved one safe during the cold winter months. Winter weather presents many challenges and potential risks to the elderly; Four Seasons is here to help. Additional resources are also provided.

Hypothermia

Some may think that hypothermia only occurs under extreme conditions, but older adults are at an increased risk of hypothermia due to changes that happen in the body when aging. Some of the warning signs of hypothermia include pale or ashy skin, feeling tired, confused, and sleepy; feeling weak; problems walking; slowed breathing, or heart rate. If you suspect your loved one is succumbing to hypothermia, immediately call 911.

Encourage your loved one to stay inside on extremely cold days, or to not stay outside long if they must go out. If they must go out, ensure they have the proper clothing to keep their lungs, neck, nose, head, and extremities warm, remembering that frostbite can also affect older adults more quickly than others.

Falls

Patches of ice that are hard to see or snow hiding in the shadows can be a significant fall hazard for your loved one. Independent individuals may also believe they are well enough to shovel snow from their driveway or walkway. However, it’s important to remember that when working in the cold, the heart works harder to keep the body warm. This can put a strain on the heart and can be dangerous, especially if your loved one has heart disease. Shoveling and other strenuous outdoor winter activities can also be dangerous for those who have trouble with balance or “thin bones” (i.e. osteoporosis).

Help encourage your loved one to ask for help if they need their driveway or front walkway shoveled; it’s okay to ask for assistance to keep themselves safe. You can also purchase salt to help keep walkways less slick. You may want to consider a cane with an ice pick-like attachment that fits onto the end for additional walking assistance.

Fires and Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

As the weather grows colder, using fireplaces and other heating sources like natural gas, kerosene, and other fuels is common. If these heating elements are not kept clean and well-ventilated, they can leak dangerous amounts of carbon monoxide, which you cannot see, nor smell. Additionally, these heating elements and space heaters can be fire hazards.

Ensure your loved one’s safety by having their chimneys and flues inspected. Double-check that all smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are properly placed throughout the home and have fresh batteries. If your loved one’s home does not have these detectors, you can purchase self-installed detectors at your local hardware store, or call an electrician to have them professionally installed. Always plug space heaters directly into the wall, not a strip outlet or extension cord, and place it in a location where there is at least a 3-foot circle around it that is free of anything that might catch fire.

Driving Accidents

Adults 65 and older are involved in more car crashes per mile driven than those in nearly all other age groups. Winter is an especially important time to be vigilant when driving because road conditions and weather may not be optimal.

Prepare your loved one’s car before a storm comes. Check the tires, antifreeze levels, and windshield wipers. Remind your loved one to always bring their cell phone with them if they drive anywhere. It’s also important to alert someone that they are leaving and when they have arrived back home, or at their destination. If conditions are dicey, encourage your loved one to stay home. Help them to change appointments to telehealth or to reschedule when the weather may be better. Or, drive them yourself so they do not have to. Stock their car with emergency supplies in the event that they were to wreck or become stuck in the snow. Some items to include are a blanket, first aid kit, jumper cables, additional warm clothes, and a flashlight.

Seasonal Depression

With cold weather and shorter days sometimes comes seasonal depression. Depression can be a dangerous mental state for your aging loved one to stay in for prolonged periods.

Help your loved one light their home to their desired level. If they like a cozy atmosphere with lamps instead of overhead lighting, ensure that cords are tucked away and that lights are easy for your loved one to access to turn on. Call and visit them when you can to encourage them and provide companionship in what might feel like a lonely time. If they need additional support, talk with their primary care provider about additional resources that can help support your loved one.

Creating a Plan

A final piece of advice is to create an emergency preparedness plan and kit with your loved one. Create a kit with items to help them navigate their home and stay warm in the event of a power outage and place in an easily accessible location. Create an evacuation plan with your loved one in case of fire, and then practice your plan together. If your loved one has stairs, you may also want to consider adding glow-in-the-dark tape markers to clearly mark each stair.

Additional Resources

HealthinAging.com

National Institute on Aging

Aging Care: Conducting a Home Safety Audit

Safe Wise: Room-by-Room Guide to Senior Home Safety