As the weather gets colder and winter knocks on our doors, seniors run a higher risk of health problems and injuries related to the weather. Here are some winter tips for seniors:
Hypothermia means the body has a temperature that has fallen below 95 degrees (35° C) and can’t produce enough energy to stay warm enough. The elderly are at special risk because they may have limited ability to communicate, impaired mobility, less subcutaneous fat, and a diminished ability to sense temperature.
Symptoms include shivering, cold skin that is pale or ashy, lack of coordination, mental confusion, slowed reactions, breathing or heart rate, weakness, and sleepiness. Call 911 if you think someone has hypothermia. Dressing in layers is important for seniors.
Frostbite can cause damage to the skin and progress to the bone. It usually affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, and toes. Frostbite can even result in loss of limbs. Seniors with heart disease and other circulation problems are at risk. Prevention includes covering up all parts of the body when going outside. If skin turns red, dark or starts to hurt it’s time to go inside right away.
Symptoms of frostbite include skin that’s white, ashy or grayish-yellow; feels hard or waxy; or is numb. If frostbite occurs, place frostbitten parts of the body in warm (not hot) water, and call for medical help immediately.
Heart attacks and high blood pressure are more common in winter because cold weather increase blood pressure and strain on the heart.
Painful joints occur more often in winter, though it’s not clear why this is the case. While many people with arthritis say their joints become more painful and stiff, there is no evidence that weather changes cause joint damage. Mild daily exercise can help, and many seniors rely on indoor swimming sessions during the winter months because swimming is easy on the joints.
Winter depression is common to seniors, and this can make them perceive pain more acutely. Everything feels worse, including medical conditions. Vitamin D can help. Encourage seniors to consume foods fortified with Vitamin D or ensuring that a Vitamin D supplement is taken.
Flu and Colds
Influenza can result in pneumonia in seniors. Flu vaccines, while not always effective in preventing the illness, can reduce the severity of the symptoms and protect against complications. Flu vaccines and Pneumonia vaccines are strongly recommended for persons 65+ years old and those who suffer from chronic health problems. Because influenza vaccine is only effective for one year and viruses vary annually, it is necessary to get a flu shot every year. Do so early, since it takes about two weeks to develop full immunity. However, even a shot in January may protect against a late winter outbreak.
Be sure to also to check and maintain furnaces, chimneys, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to ensure winter safety!
About the Author:
Neda McGuire, owner of Aging Matters is a Gerontologist and End of Life Doula. She has been in the healthcare field for over 29 years and assists families through the aging and dying journey. Neda is a Rotarian with Lake Ridge Rotary and honored to help the community through Rotary’s mission of service. She also is a hospice volunteer, assisting patients and families during this sacred time. Neda can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org