Keeping Warm and Safe as the Temperature Drops

keep-warm-winterThough we are still waiting to break out the heavy winter gear, we will probably experience some cold weather before spring arrives. Temperatures have been mild and there’s been little snowfall but it is important to remember that older adults are more susceptible to cold-related health issues and should take necessary precautions.  There are a number of steps to take when the temperature drops.

  • Keep indoor temperature at 65 degrees or warmer. 
  • Do not stay outside for extended periods.
  • Stay dry because wet clothing chills your body more quickly. 
  • Dress in layers. Wearing 2 or 3 thinner layers of loose-fitting clothing is warmer than a single layer of thick clothing.
  • Wear winter gear including hats, gloves or preferably mittens, winter coat, boots, and a scarf to cover your mouth and nose.

With advancing age, the body’s ability to endure long periods of exposure to cold is lowered, thereby making older adults more susceptible to hypothermia. Hypothermia occurs when a person’s body temperature drops below normal and stays low for a prolonged period of time. Older adults are at greater risk for several reasons including: the body’s diminished response to cold caused by certain illnesses, such as diabetes; the effects of some medications, including those for Parkinson’s and arthritis; and the fact that some older adults are less active and generate less body heat. As a result, older adults can develop hypothermia even after exposure to relatively mild cold weather or a small drop in temperature.

Signs of hypothermia include cold, pale skin, cold feet and hands, weakness, extreme fatigue, and slowed breathing or heart rate. Interestingly, older adults tend not to shiver when their body temperature drops. Call 911 if you think you or someone else has hypothermia. While you are waiting for the ambulance you should wrap the person in a warm blanket. Do not rub the person’s legs or arms or try to warm the person in a bath and do not use a heating pad.

Another challenge of winter is the increased likelihood of slips and falls. Follow these tips to decrease the likelihood of falling this winter.

  • Make sure steps and walkways are clear before you walk. Be especially careful if you see wet pavements that could be iced over. 
  • Clear away snow and salt your walkways at home, or hire someone to do it.
  • Wear boots with non-skid soles – this will prevent you from slipping.
  • If you use a cane, replace the rubber tip before it is worn smooth.
  • Consider an ice pick-like attachment that fits onto the end of the cane for additional traction.

Best wishes for a safe remainder of the winter.