By Dr. David Rideout
It is important to stay active year round for overall physical and mental health. The cold winter months can pose challenges for staying healthy and fit, especially for seniors. Here are some tips to stay safe when the temperature plummets.
Avoid falling — Falls for seniors are common and dangerous during the winter months. Often slipping on snow or ice causes major trauma such as hip and wrist fractures, or cuts requiring suturing.
Complications from falls are one of the leading causes of death in individuals over the age of 65. It is especially important to wear shoes with good traction. Shoes and boots with non-skid soles are highly recommended. Remove your shoes when you come in from ice and snow, as moisture on shoes can lead to slips inside the house.
Dress for the cold — Extreme cold conditions outside can lead to frostbite. Hypothermia, a dangerous drop in body temperature, can occur if one is exposed to extreme cold for too long a period. More than half of hypothermia-related deaths last year were of people over the age of 65.
To go outside, dress in layers, making sure you have warm socks, gloves, and a hat on. If the weather is extremely cold, take measures to protect any exposed skin. You can cover your face and mouth with a scarf or special winter facemasks. In extremely harsh conditions, limit your exposure outside.
Signs of hypothermia are: Shivering, clumsiness or lack of coordination, slurred speech or mumbling, confusion and drowsiness. If your body temperature has dropped below 95 degrees, get immediate medical attention.
Be prepared for power outages — Make sure you have flashlights and a battery-powered radio in case the power goes out. Keep a supply of water and non-perishable food items in your home since food can spoil in your freezer and refrigerator during long outages. If the power goes out, wear layers of clothing inside, including a hat.
Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning — Using a fireplace, gas heater can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning if they are not in good working order. Make sure that you have a carbon monoxide detector on each floor of your home. Be sure to check the batteries on your carbon monoxide detectors regularly.
The previous tips are practical ways to stay safe during the cold winter months, but it is equally important to look after one’s mental wellbeing. It is common for seniors to have less contact with friends and family during the winter because of the hazards of winter travel. To help avoid feelings of loneliness or isolation, family members should check in with seniors as often as possible. Seniors can also arrange a check-in system with neighbors and friends, where each person looks in on each other daily.
Dr. Rideout is the lead physician at Doctors Express in Saugus, one of 12 Eastern Massachusetts offices, offering seven-day walk-in urgent medical care. For more information visit our website at www.DoctorsExpressBoston.com. You can read additional articles on www.fiftyplusadvocate.com