The recent chilly temperatures remind us that winter does actually come to Southern California. Winter can pose special challenges to seniors, so it’s important that they take precautionary measures to stay healthy and safe in nasty weather.
Older adults are more susceptible to hypothermia because they tend to produce less body heat, and certain health conditions can further limit their body’s response to cold.
To combat severe cold and windy conditions, seniors should:
• Limit their time outdoors.
• Wear layers of clothing and further reduce heat loss by wearing hats, scarves, gloves, socks and boots. Cover up with blankets.
• Eat hot, nourishing meals and drink warm beverages to regulate body temperature.
• Keep thermostats at comfortable levels.
While keeping the home warm, be mindful of the danger and increased risk of house fires. To minimize the risk, remember to:
• Have chimneys and flues inspected and cleaned yearly.
• Use a fireplace screen to prevent sparks from igniting nearby objects.
• Avoid throwing plastic or wrapping paper in the fireplace.
• Inspect furnaces annually to ensure they are working properly.
• Ensure smoke detectors and carbon-monoxide monitors are working properly.
Replace the batteries on an annual basis. A good time to do so is when resetting clocks to “spring forward” or “fall back.”
• Keep a fire extinguisher handy. Know how to use it, check it and refill it, as needed.
• Keep space heaters at least three feet from anything flammable.
• Avoid leaving burning candles unguarded or near flammable objects. Extinguish them before leaving rooms or going to bed. Do not leave children or adults with dementia alone in rooms with an open flame. Consider using “fake” candles that are battery-operated for holiday decorations.
• Check wires on lights and cords to make sure they are not frayed.
• Keep flashlights in easily accessible areas.
Falls are always a concern for seniors and can be even more dangerous during the winter with inclement weather such as rain, sleet, ice and snow.
• Keep steps and driveways as slip-free as possible with road salt, sand or kitty litter.
• Older adults should avoid shoveling snow because the strenuous activity can cause muscle strains and other injuries.
• Have an emergency kit with a blanket in the car in case you become stuck due to road conditions.
Winter time is accompanied by shorter daylight hours. Many people, especially seniors, get the winter blues. The inactivity and isolation that occurs during inclement weather often decreases opportunities for exercise and social outings. That’s where family members and friends can help by:
• Checking on seniors as frequently as possible. Often, a daily phone call can make a big difference.
• Arranging for a check-in system with neighbors and friends.
• Using part-time caregivers, if not already in place, to visit and assist with any activities that are unsafe in wintry conditions.
Although winter may pose unique challenges for seniors, with some planning and awareness, they can stay safe and healthy until spring arrives. Happy holidays!
Dr. Grace Chen is a board-certified geriatrician with the highly regarded UCLA Geriatrics Program in Santa Monica and Westwood. For more information, call 310.319.4371 or visit www.uclahealth.org.