Winter can be a challenging and dismal time for a lot of Canadians, but it can be especially hard for older adults with health conditions and physical ailments that make the long season that much more strenuous. The Canadian winter is generally a lengthy affair, and for people that don’t really enjoy any outdoor winter activities, it can seem like an everlasting nightmare. Many people convert to staying indoors during the winter, which can often lead to a more sedentary lifestyle.
However, even if you are not overly fond of the outdoors in minus zero temperatures, it is important to stay active for sustained health. Reduced physical activity during the winter can be especially damaging for seniors because it increases the risk of slip and fall accidents. Inactivity can result in diminished strength and mobility, which directly affects balance and coordination. Combine that with icy streets and walkways and the risk of injury from falling increases greatly.
What are the Major Winter Risks for Seniors?
There are several hazards the winter season brings with it that jeopardize the health and wellbeing of older adults. Some of the most serious risks for seniors in the winter, include:
- Frostbite and hypothermia
- Injury from shoveling
- Injury from falls
- Power outages
- Driving accidents
- Curtailed exercise and nutrition
- Fires and carbon monoxide poisoning
- Isolation and depression
Frostbite and Hypothermia
Winter weather conditions and low temperatures are much more manageable when you are prepared with appropriate clothing and apparel. Frostbite is caused when skin gets prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. It can result in damage to the skin, and in extreme cases, loss of limbs. People with poor circulation are more susceptible to frostbite, because the extremities are not getting enough blood to provide the essential oxygen and nutrients.
Hypothermia is an even more serious issue, and occurs when body temperatures drop to dangerous levels. Again, seniors are at a higher risk as aging effects on the body decrease the amount of heat the body is able to generate to bring it back to normal temperatures.
Clearing walkways and driveways of snow is another one of winter’s unfortunate necessities. Shoveling can cause back injuries for older adults, and it can be strenuous enough to put undue strain on the heart. People with heart problems, arthritis, or osteoporosis should avoid shoveling if at all possible to prevent injury.
Injury from Falls
This is likely the most serious risk seniors face in the winter. Slippery sidewalks and impaired balance and mobility make a dangerous combination out in the winter elements. Laying down ice melt and wearing high traction footwear can help reduce the risk.
Loss of power occurs more often in the winter as well, so it is a good idea to have extra blankets on hand, or generator powered space heaters for backup.
Driving becomes a greater risk for everyone in the winter, and seniors with poor vision and diminished reaction time can be at greater risk for car accidents and serious injury. People over the age of 65 are involved in more car accidents than any other age group, the risk becomes even greater in the winter due to poor road conditions. Seniors should try to avoid driving during the winter whenever possible, and especially in icy conditions.
Curtailed Exercise and Nutrition
Many people become much less active during the winter, and a lot of older adults engage in limited physical activity. Lack of exercise can contribute to risk of falls as strength and balance start to diminish. Reluctance to venture outdoors can also mean fewer trips to the grocery store, and settling for easy to prepare processed foods that offer limited nutritional value.
Fires and Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Fire places and gas heaters give off carbon monoxide fumes, and may see high frequency of use during the winter months. Make sure to have functional carbon detectors on hand to prevent excessive exposure and fires.
Isolation and Depression
Ugly weather conditions can make it undesirable to go out and get some social activity. Seniors with mobility issues are more vulnerable to social isolation during the winter months, which can lead to depression.
Useful Tips for Seniors to Cope with Winter Weather
There are many helpful suggestions and practices older adults can get involved with to help prevent injury during the winter, and get through the long season more easily.
Some useful tips for seniors this winter, might include:
- Dress warmly when venturing out, that includes good gloves and a warm hat
- Warm, snug fitting, high traction footwear is extremely important
- Get some help with shoveling, especially for wet, heavy snow
- Falls prevention
- Keep physically active to keep muscles strong and flexible
- Wear appropriate footwear
- Remove clutter from indoor walkways
- Use ice melt on outdoor walkways
- Have extra blankets and candles on hand in case of power outage; have a back-up generator if possible
- Don’t drive when road conditions are even slightly dangerous
- Make sure carbon monoxide tester is working when running the fireplace or gas heaters
- Have the furnace pre-serviced and change filters
- Stay social, invite friends and family over for a meal
- Enlist help from professional home caregivers for added assistance