Cold weather can be hazardous for anyone, but it is riskiest for the elderly. Often, this is because older adults have existing medical conditions that impair their ability to cope with the cold. Additionally, the elderly tend to be prone to accidents in severe weather. And, depression is frequently a cause for concern in connection with the elderly and the winter.
Understanding these cold weather health risks is an important first step to preventing an emergency.
Impaired Senses Can Lead to Hypothermia
It’s not uncommon for an older person to suffer from impaired circulation, diabetes or arthritis. Moreover, people who have had a stroke may have some paralysis. Though all of these conditions may be distinct, they all have the symptom of impairing the person’s sense of touch and, accordingly, their ability to sense cold. This is frequently a problem in the extremities, which are particularly prone to getting cold quickly. Being exposed to cold temperatures, indoors or out, for a long period of time can lead to a condition known as hypothermia. This is a state of the body being at an abnormally low temperature. Symptoms include confusion, sleepiness, paleness and excessive shivering. When these symptoms are present, it’s important to seek immediate emergency assistance. The National Institutes of Health suggests the condition can be prevented by taking a few simple steps like keeping the thermostat turned up and wearing various layers of loose fitting clothing.
Slips, Falls and Other Injuries
When the weather is cold and icy, even a simple trip to the mailbox can prove to be perilous. The risks multiply when the elderly person attempts to shovel the driveway or take the car to the grocery store. Any of these ordinary activities can become a health concern when snow and ice cover the ground. A fall that merely results in a bruise for a younger person can easily break a bone in an older one. Frequently, a broken bone leads to other medical complications like pneumonia. Excessive, unusual physical activity like shoveling can bring on a heart attack, and driving on icy roads is an invitation to an accident and physical injury. That’s why it’s so important for older adults to exercise caution. When severe weather is in the forecast, plan ahead by stocking up on supplies or arrange to have someone deliver them. Put off running errands until the weather improves, and arrange to have a neighbor drop by once or twice a day.
The Winter Blues
Bad weather can leave the elderly feeling more isolated than ever. Depression is a debilitating condition that saps the energy and leaves the individual susceptible to numerous other illnesses. Combat depression by arranging for regular visits from a home care professional, friends or family. Frequent welfare checks can be the key to avoiding serious medical complications brought about by seclusion.
Ice and snow are an inevitable part of winter, and they can mean health hazards for seniors. However, being aware of these major health concerns can help prevent them from happening. With a little advance planning, older adults can weather the winter in warmth and comfort.