Summary and Highlights
- Ensure that the vehicle is in good condition and properly maintained, including making sure the oil is changed, antifreeze is filled, tires are filled or switched out for snow tires, and new windshield wipers are installed.
- Educate yourself on the signs and symptoms of cold-related ailments such as hypothermia and frostbite. Learn basic first aid to prevent symptoms from worsening until you can access medical assistance.
- Stay updated on preventative measures to reduce the risk of flu and catching colds or other contagious winter-time diseases. Stay in contact with friends and family, even by phone or online, and keep active with appropriate indoor activities.
The winter months come with exciting holidays, family get-togethers, cozy blankets, and indoor activities huddled up by the fire.
But, some aging adults may find the blustery season a little nerve-racking and treacherous. Icy roads, unshoveled sidewalks, poor heating, and lack of immediate access to groceries and healthcare can be a scary reality.
Additionally, being held up in a home all winter can get boring and lonely.
This article will discuss common winter safety hazards for older adults, ways seniors can stay safe during the winter months, and secure ways for seniors to remain active during the winter.
Common Cold Weather Safety Hazards for Older Adults
Colder temperatures, inclement weather, and freezing precipitation can present multiple safety hazards for older adults who may struggle with physical and cognitive ailments and access to immediate help.
Let’s take a look at a few potential issues you should prepare for:
- Slippery conditions, snowy roads, and black ice lead to car accidents, resulting in injury or getting stranded
- Icy patches cause slippery sidewalks and driveways and an increased risk of falls
- A poor working vehicle that is not efficient in snowy conditions
- Poor heating systems in homes, leading to colder temperatures and illness
- Higher risk for winter health problems (i.e., flu, colds, pneumonia)
- Overexertion while shoveling snow, leading to heart issues or hospitalization
- Getting stranded during bad weather with limited access to food, warm clothes, and medical care
- Lack of proper winter gear for community activities leads to exposed skin from loss of body heat.
Home Winter Safety for Older Adults
To better prepare for the winter months and unexpected winter storms, seniors can take several proactive steps to keep themselves – and their homes – well-prepared and safe.
Consider applying the following senior safety tips before wintertime hits:
- Update your winter gear: Warm clothing for the elderly should include gloves, winter coats, scarves, hats, undergarments, etc. To maintain a normal body temperature, check fabrics for any holes or tears that might let in cold air. A heavy, waterproof coat is the best choice to preserve body warmth.
- Set up a hefty food and medicine storage and other emergency supplies if you get stranded in a storm and can’t get to a store.
- Consider setting up phone and online services with your healthcare providers if you can’t see them in person.
- Keep salt handy at home to keep ice off your porch and sidewalk.
- Only shovel if you have the physical capacity to do so. Older adults with cardiac and balance problems should consult a doctor before shoveling snow.
- Have a licensed professional check and update your heating system before the colder temperatures set in to maintain a proper indoor temperature all winter long.
- Install weather stripping (or have it installed for you) to minimize drafts, which causes your heat to run more often. This tip could also reduce your heating bill!
- Have an emergency plan if you experience power outages in your home. Make an emergency kit with extra blankets, alternative heat sources, generators, flashlights, etc.
- If your home uses gas heat or other gas fuel appliances, make sure you have a working carbon monoxide detector to reduce the chance of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- If you use one, ensure your space heater is far from flammable fabrics and has an auto shut-off feature. (Learn more about safe heaters for the elderly here.)
- Seek medical attention immediately if you feel cold and cannot warm yourself up by traditional methods.
Please read our guide to keeping the elderly warm to learn more about making homes warmer for older loved ones.
Winter Travel and Vehicle Safety Tips for Older Adults
While the best policy might be not to leave the home during bad winter weather, sometimes it can’t be avoided.
Here are some tips to get your vehicle ready and some ideas to make your travels safer.
- Ensure your winter shoes or boots have sufficient traction and water resistance to reduce cold feet. Wear thick, warm socks and make sure they stay dry to prevent heat loss through your feet.
- Get your car checked out by a trusted mechanic before any winter driving. Get the oil changed, fill up the antifreeze, get the tires filled or switched out for snow tires, and install new windshield wipers.
- Always keep a full gas tank in the winter months and an ice scraper in the trunk.
- Don’t drive or travel alone. If there’s no way around it, keep your fully charged phone on you.
- Keep a list of contacts on hand in an emergency: getting stranded in your car, getting stuck in your home, etc.
- Educate yourself on the signs and symptoms of cold-related ailments: hypothermia, frostbite, etc. Learn basic first aid to prevent symptoms from worsening until you can access medical assistance.
- Be flexible with your winter plans. If a snowstorm comes, play it safe and reschedule community and family activities for later.
- Stay updated on preventative measures to reduce your risk of influenza and catching colds or other contagious winter-time diseases.
- If the thought of dealing with vehicles, snow removal, and home maintenance in the winter upsets you, you should investigate the possibility of moving to a senior living community.
How to Stay Safe But Remain Active During the Winter Months
For some seniors, the winter can take a physical and emotional toll on them due to limitations in social participation and exercise.
Seniors may become increasingly lonely and bored without the right tools and strategies for staying active during winter. Here are some ways a senior loved one can remain active during the cold winter season:
- Create a list of indoor physical activities and set up an exercise schedule. Examples may include dance, weightlifting, yoga, Tai Chi, Zumba, stair laps, etc. Consult your primary physician beforehand if you have a cardiac or respiratory illness.
- Stay in contact with friends and family, even by phone or online. Start a social group or club to meet at home for games and mingling.
- Pull out some appropriate hobbies or activities for your time indoors: sewing, reading, arts & crafts, genealogy work, writing, musical performance or composition, photography, etc.
Infographic: Home Winter Safety for Older Adults
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Winter months and blizzardy weather conditions can pose serious complications for elderly loved ones, some of which can lead to hazardous outcomes.
But, knowing the right winter safety tips for older adults ahead of time can help older people be prepared for winter conditions. Prepare for cold days ahead of time. Avoid slick or slippery walking surfaces.
Don’t travel alone if at all possible. And keep yourself physically and cognitively active to prevent boredom and loneliness.