Cold is no fun for anyone, but it can be dangerous for seniors, who tend to have a thinner fat layer beneath the skin and who take medications that could cause poor circulation or thin blood.  Both of these can make older people more susceptible to the dangers of lowered temperatures, not to mention the added perils to footing and driving with ice and snow!

Some ways to stay safe seem obvious, but it’s especially important for seniors to think ahead when the weather turns frigid.  Here are four important safety tips for seniors to remember when preparing to be out in the cold this winter:

  • Step carefully. Always be mindful of your footing, the shoes you are wearing and the surface you are stepping to.  It may seem innocent enough to “run out” in your slippers to pick up the paper in the driveway, but a rushing misstep may end in a disastrous fall.  Always wear appropriate shoes with traction if there’s even a small possibility of ice, never rush, and make sure your weight will hold solidly before taking your next step.
  • If you must shovel snow, shovel slowly. We’ve been lucky so far this year, but the snow is going to come.  If you live in a home and are responsible for your own snow removal, now is the time to line up that neighborhood kid or landscaping professional to come by when it snows to dig you out.  If that’s not an option, make sure you consult with your doctor before attempting to shovel, because shoveling is more strenuous than you might think.  Go slowly, only lift amounts that are easy for you, and rest often.  The last thing you want to do is become injured while shoveling.
  • Wear layers. Layers can act as your own climate control, and keep your body from suffering the effects of the cold.  If you must go out in the cold, consider wearing three layers to help protect you:  A snug base layer that wicks away moisture is important as a second skin; a mid-layer for insulation can help you use your body heat efficiently; and an outer layer, such as a waterproof coat, can keep you protected from the weather.   All are necessary if you’re spending any time out in the cold, not to mention a warm hat and scarf, a face covering if the temperatures dip below freezing, and gloves.
  • Be wary of driving. Driving in the cold weather can be dangerous, with slippery roads and icy patches that you can’t always see.  If you must drive, try to avoid rush hour or other busy times when there will be more drivers on the road, and avoid driving at dusk or in the dark, when visibility is compromised.  Be sure your car is equipped for the snow, with appropriate tire pressure and treads, and an emergency kit in the trunk that includes a shovel, ice melt, sand, a blanket, bottled water and a flashlight.  If you expect bad weather, make sure your gas tank is full.  Whenever you go out, be sure to take your cell phone, and let someone know where you are going and when to expect you back.

The most important tip to remember is to pay attention to your body.  If you’re cold, go inside to get warm.  If you’re unsteady on your feet, wait to walk on potentially icy paths.  And if you’re shoveling, stop if it becomes too strenuous.  Ask for help when possible.  With planning and preparation, our seniors will do fine until spring arrives!

By Ellyn Troisi, RN, MPH, FNP-C
Ellyn is the Employee Health Nurse Practitioner at the Gurwin Jewish Nursing & Rehabilitation Center.

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