Chilling temperatures, ice and snow can be a nuisance, but for older adults, the winter months can be downright dangerous. Use these cold weather tips for seniors to ensure your loved ones stay safe and warm.
7 Winter Weather Tips for Seniors
Prevent Hypothermia in Elderly Loved OnesGenerally, seniors and cold weather can be a dangerous mix. A report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that older adults have an elevated risk of cold-related death. Those age 75 and older are particularly susceptible to cold weather because they tend to have less body fat, less efficient circulation and a slower metabolism. Certain medical conditions, such as heart disease, kidney disorders, and liver disease, and medications can also affect an elder’s ability to regulate body temperature.
Keep in mind that it is possible for a senior to become hypothermic indoors, so the thermostat should never be set below 65 degrees Fahrenheit for a person who is 75 or older. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) recommends setting the heat to at least 68–70 degrees Fahrenheit to keep elders safe. Make sure that your loved one is warmly dressed both inside and outside the home.
If an aging loved one is struggling to pay their heating bills or needs financial assistance to weatherize their home this winter, consider helping them apply for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). LIHEAP is a federally funded assistance program that helps low-income families stay warm during winter and cool during summer. To find out more information about your state’s LIHEAP eligibility requirements and how to apply, visit the Office of Community Services website.
Encourage HydrationSeniors are especially prone to dehydration because they tend to eat and drink less than younger people, thus they consume less water. In general, people feel less thirsty during the winter and do not drink as much fluid as they should. Cold, dry air also contributes to moisture loss, so make sure your elderly loved one is drinking consistently.
Signs of dehydration in seniors include infrequent urination, dark urine, dizziness and confusion. Complications of dehydration can be serious, but monitoring water intake is an easy way to guarantee an elder is getting enough fluids.
Read: Hydration Tips for Seniors
Prepare for Ice and Snow to Minimize Fall RisksSidewalks slick with ice and snow pose a serious falling hazard for an elderly person. Make sure that your loved one’s porch, driveway, steps, sidewalk, etc. have been thoroughly salted and shoveled. If they are at all unsteady on their feet, it’s best to have someone else handle these tasks, like a neighbor or a hired service. Organizations in areas that are often impacted by inclement winter weather may offer seniors free or discounted snow-shoveling services. When out and about, be sure to maximize an elder’s stability by ensuring they have well-fitting shoes with non-slip soles and new tips or treads on any mobility aids they use.
Make a Disaster KitWinter storms can be fierce enough to knock down power lines and confine seniors to their homes. It is essential to make sure your loved one is equipped with a disaster kit to help them get through these times. Each kit should include enough nonperishable food and water for several days (at least 3 gallons of water per person per day), a can opener, a few days’ worth of any necessary medication, a flashlight, a battery-powered radio, extra batteries, and first-aid essentials. To find more information on staying safe before, during and after winter storms, visit Ready.gov.
Be Smart About Space HeatersWhile these devices can provide much-needed warmth during the colder months, precautions must be taken so these sources of heat don’t become health hazards. If a senior uses a gas-powered heater or generator, make sure there is at least one functional carbon monoxide detector in their home. If they use electric heaters, inspect all power cords for fraying and get rid of any damaged devices. Keep all heaters away from flammable materials, such as cloth and paper, and make sure to regularly test and place new batteries in all smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. For more safety tips for space heaters, visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission website.
Bundle UpMittens, scarves, sweaters, hats and coats are a few must-have articles of clothing for seniors living in colder climates. Even when an elderly person is indoors, they should be dressed in warm, comfortable layers so they can easily take items off if they’re too hot or put more on if they are too cold. Older adults tend to catch chills easily, so warm socks, closed-back slippers with slip resistant soles and cozy throw blankets are ideal.
Use Electric Blankets With CautionElectric blankets can keep seniors toasty, but they must be used very carefully to avoid burns, electric shocks and even fires. Any electric blankets or mattress pads that are more than a few years old may need to be replaced. The coils inside the fabric as well as the power cords and controls can get damaged over time, increasing the risk of accident or injury. Look for a model that has an automatic shutoff feature and be sure to use and store electric blankets responsibly. Individuals with poor circulation or nerve damage (neuropathy) should exercise extreme caution when using heated blankets to avoid thermal burns or refrain from using them altogether.
Sources: Deaths Attributed to Heat, Cold, and Other Weather Events in the United States, 2006–2010 (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr076.pdf); Hypothermia (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hypothermia/symptoms-causes/syc-20352682); Cold Weather Safety for Older Adults (https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/cold-weather-safety-older-adults); Dehydration (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dehydration/symptoms-causes/syc-20354086); Heating Pads and Electric Blankets Safety (https://www.esfi.org/resource/heating-pads-electric-blankets-safety-290)