Terri Miller: Winter tips for seniors

Terri Miller

Before the cold weather hits, it is best to prepare for snow, ice, and extreme temperatures. Taking preventative action is always the best defense against the winter elements.

Power failures

Take these measures from the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health to make sure you're ready for any winter weather.

- Before cold weather hits, make sure you have a way to heat your home during a power failure. Keep a fire extinguisher nearby when using alternative heating sources.

- Keep on hand extra blankets, flashlights with extra batteries, matches, a first aid kit, a manual can opener, a snow shovel and rock salt, and special items you think you'd need.

- Stock a few days’ supply of water, required medications and food that does not need to be refrigerated or cooked.

- Monitor the temperature of your home. Infants and persons older than age 65 are especially susceptible to cold. If it’s not possible to keep your home warm, stay with friends or family or in a shelter.

- Dress in several layers to maintain body heat. Covering up with blankets can also conserve heat.

Fall prevention

According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, one third of all adults older than 65 fall each year. With icy pathways, seniors need to take extra care to prevent falls that could result in serious injury.

Ensure walkways are well lit and keep ice melt and a snow shovel just outside the door in order to avoid the risk of slipping on ice. Make sure mats are secured just inside of doorways to catch snow and ice, and be sure to wipe up any puddles. Additionally, be sure canes and walkers with rubber tips on the ends are in good condition, or modify them with metal grips or ice picks to provide additional stability and traction in the snow. 

Safeguard your health

Flu and cold season can send many to the doctor’s office, but a serious and unusually common condition to look out for is hypothermia.

Hypothermia is one of the most serious risks to people older than 65. Medical conditions leave some more susceptible than others. Smokers, diabetics, those with peripheral vascular disease or circulatory problems are more likely to fall victim to the serious effects. What may seem “chilly” to younger adults may actually be too cold for some seniors. Oftentimes, forgetting to check the thermostat daily, or not turning it up high enough can create serious risks for hypothermia to seniors in the home.

To help reduce these chances, the National Institutes of Health recommends thermostats set at least to 68 to 70 degrees in the winter. Indications of hypothermia include: Confusion or drowsiness, difficulty speaking, violent shivering, slow breathing, clumsiness, unusual irritability, sleepy, hard to wake up, puffy face, and cold, stiff muscles.

If you or someone you know may be experiencing hypothermia, seek emergency medical attention right away. Handle the person gently, warm them with layers of blankets, make sure you cover the head, neck and extremities, and if possible, raise the inside temperature of the home. Do not put them in a hot bath or shower, and be careful not to rub any part of the person’s body.

With today’s economic hardships, it may be financially difficult to keep homes heated properly. Solutions include inexpensive plastic sheets applied to the inside of windows, keeping heat inside the home through door and window insulation, minimizing your use of ventilation fans (i.e. bathroom fans and kitchen hood fans), and don’t heat areas of your home you don’t use regularly by closing the heating vents and closing the doors to those areas help keep the rest of the home warm and more cost effective.

Carthage Press contributor Terri Miller, LNHA, is the Administrator of Maple Tree Terrace Assisted Living in Carthage, Mo. She can be reached at carthage@americareusa.net.