Keeping the Elderly Safe in Extreme Winter Weather

Dianna Malkowski

by Dianna Malkowski, Physician Assistant and Nutritionist

The elderly are especially at risk during weather extremes,  because of limited mobility, instability that can lead to slips and falls, physical changes that make it difficult to regulate body temperature and flu dangers.

With the extremely cold weather we’re experiencing across many areas of the country, monitoring our seniors is more important than ever. If you have an elderly friend, relative or neighbor who lives alone, call or visit once a day. If you don’t live nearby, call daily or ask someone to check in on your loved one. Keep emergency telephone numbers posted where your loved one and visitors can clearly see them, and consider equipping the home with a monitoring system and large-button amplified phone.

Avoiding heating-related dangers: In extremely cold weather, people often try to heat their homes using unsafe methods. Space heaters should never be used unattended, for long periods of time, on surfaces that are not heat-safe, or near curtains and other flammable materials. Candles should never be left unattended. Cooking ovens and grills should never be used as heat sources because of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and fire hazard.

Guarding against hypothermia: The elderly are at risk in cold weather because the body’s ability to maintain a constant internal temperature decreases with age. In addition to sleeping ith a down comforter and using a heated throw or lap throw indoors, it’s helpful to dress in layers, paying special attention to hands and feet with warm slippers and perhaps even light gloves. Outdoors, it’s essential to dress in warm layers, including hats, gloves and scarves to warm air before breathing it in.

Preventing slips and falls: Tips to prevent falls outdoors include shuffling slowly to keep two feet on the ground, wearing nonslip shoes and keeping hands free for balance. Canes with large quad bases can make walking safer and easier, especially on uneven surfaces. While rubber cane tips and bases can help with stability on slippery areas, it’s important to keep surfaces free of snow and ice. Places to look for snow removal help include family, friends, neighbors, churches and senior centers.

Fighting the flu: Older adults are at greatest risk of complications from the flu, including dehydration and pneumonia, according to the American Red Cross. If an elderly loved one becomes ill, encourage her to see her doctor and take her if necessary. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are three ways to fight the flu: (1) getting a flu vaccine; (2) avoiding contact with germs; and (3) taking flu antiviral drugs if a doctor prescribes them.

For further help, visit our Caregiver Resource Library and download our free fall prevention guide.

Dianna Malkowski is a Board Certified Physician Assistant and Mayo Clinic trained nutritionist specializing in diabetes, cancer, wound healing, therapeutic diets and nutrition support. She serves on the board of professional advisers for The CareGiver Partnership and enjoys working with patients and caregivers alike. Ask Dianna a question.


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