When winter’s beauty turns more beastly with arctic winds, mounds of snow and bone-chilling temperatures, the season’s harsh side can prove especially dangerous for senior adults. Even older snowbirds escaping to warmer climates still can encounter dips in the thermometer, dampening rains and icy navigation.
“Colder weather is not particularly kind to seniors,” said Gregg Balbera, president of Right at Home Nassau Suffolk. “Slick sidewalks lead to falls; colds and the flu escalate; and depression looms because of indoor confinement and less social interaction. To counter the wintertime risks for older adults, basic planning and prevention can make the cold weather manageable and actually enjoyable.”
To help families ensure their seniors stay warm and safe during winter months, Balbera recommends the following precautions:
Stay warm indoors
A comfortable thermostat setting in winter is 68° to 70° F. Many elders push their thermostats to higher temperatures, but this promotes over-dry skin and nasal passages, and raises the heating bill. Instead, seniors who feel chilled might consider wearing thicker socks, fleece slippers and a thin, thermal undershirt and leggings. Today’s lightweight “long johns” trap body heat, wick away moisture and layer well beneath outer clothes. Wearing a scarf around the neck and a knit hat also can increase one’s warmth around the house.
Beware of slick outdoor conditions
Inclement weather can create a buildup of snow, ice and mud on walkways and driveways. Outdoor fall prevention includes these tips: wear nonskid boots, get help with snow shoveling, use ice melt or sand for traction, and watch diligently for black ice.
Wear appropriate clothing outdoors
To prevent heat loss or hypothermia when body temperature drops too low, the elderly who venture into the cold should wear light, layered, loose-fitting clothing under an insulated, waterproof winter coat. Outerwear with a fleece lining and windproof shell is a plus. A hat is a must since as much as 50 percent of body heat is lost through the head. Weatherproof, lined gloves or mittens that still allow for flexibility are also a smart answer to the cold.
Stay current on immunizations
Seniors with a weakened immune system are more vulnerable to catching colds and the flu or more severe illnesses including pneumonia. Older adults should consult with their doctor about seasonal and year-round immunizations that are best for their individual overall health.
Consume a balanced diet
Individuals who remain indoors more during winter find it tempting to eat starchy convenience foods and skip fresh fruits and vegetables. Adding vegetables to soups and fruits to smoothies is an easy way to add vitamin-enriched foods to a senior’s diet. With less natural sunlight during winter to boost a body’s vitamin D level, eating vitamin-D fortified foods including grains, milk and seafood can help.
Although the elderly may not feel as thirsty in cooler weather, drinking six to eight glasses of liquid a day is still advised. Hot tea, apple cider and cocoa are fun additions to a wintertime beverage list, but stay mindful of the extra sugar and calories.
Ward off isolation and depression
Harsh weather invites less social interaction, and for many seniors, can put a damper on mental health. To prevent loneliness and the winter blues in the elderly, schedule regular outings, personal visits, phone calls and social networking. Staying connected with others helps trigger the body’s natural mood lifters including dopamine, serotonin and endorphins.
With safety steps in place, aging adults can enjoy more beauty in winter than beast.