7 Ways to Keep Your Older Loved Ones Safe This Winter

Winter can be one of the most picturesque seasons of the year. Gently falling snow and the sparkle of ice-covered trees can create beautiful landscapes for the eye to behold. However, winter’s natural beauty is also accompanied by conditions and circumstances that can create serious health and safety concerns for older adults.

Winter’s Special Safety Risks for Older Americans

“The winter months can be particularly challenging for the health and safety of our seniors,” says Collin Tierney, Executive Director and Administrator of Bryn Mawr Terrace in Bryn Mawr, PA.

“Frigid temperatures, slippery streets and sidewalks, greater periods of inactivity and a variety of health hazards all converge to put the safety of older Americans at higher risk. Therefore, if you have an older loved one that you’re concerned about, it is important to be aware of the primary hazards of the winter season and to take precautions to eliminate or reduce them.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), being prepared and having a plan in place is the best solution for keeping your older loved one safe through the cold winter months.

7 Winter Safety Risks and Tips on How to Minimize Them

There are a variety of excellent resources available that offer useful information on the primary health and safety hazards of winter and ways you can protect your older loved one against them.

Examples include the National Institute on Aging article, “Cold Weather Safety for Older Adults,” the HealthinAging.org article, “Winter Safety Tips for Older Adults,” and the CDC website’s “Winter Weather Frequently Asked Questions.”

Seven of the major safety concerns for older adults that result from winter weather include:

  1. Falls – Falls are especially dangerous for seniors. They are a leading cause of injury and death for people over the age of 65, and winter’s slick surfaces make the risk of falling greater. Make sure your loved one’s steps, sidewalk and driveway are always clear of snow and ice.

    Also, make sure they wear shoes with good traction and non-skid soles. If they use a cane, you can replace the rubber tip before it is worn smooth. Ice pick-like attachments are also available for the end of their cane for additional traction and safety.
  1. Hypothermia – According to the CDC, older Americans are at a higher risk of hypothermia in winter. More than half of hypothermia-related deaths are of people over the age of 65. Hypothermia occurs when one’s body temperature drops to a dangerous level resulting from exposure to the cold.

    You can keep your loved one safe by having them stay indoors or minimizing their time outside. Have their home temperature set at 68 degrees or higher and make sure they dress warmly. When outdoors, older adults should wear layers of clothing, a hat and gloves, and try to stay dry, as wet clothing chills the body quickly. They should also drink warm beverages or broth to maintain body temperature while avoiding alcohol and caffeine that cause the body to lose heat more rapidly.

  2. Heart attack – Cold winter temperatures cause the heart to work harder to keep us warm. This is especially true of older adults. Shoveling snow can put too much strain on your older loved one’s heart and can also be hazardous if they have balance problems or osteoporosis. If they live on their own, make arrangements ahead of time to have their snow removal needs taken care of right away.

  3. Winter-related Illness – Because seniors are at greater risk of developing the flu as well as subsequent pneumonia, be sure your loved one gets a flu shot. In addition, the CDC recommends that all adults 65 years or older receive pneumonia vaccines for their safety.

    Difficulty getting around in the winter months can also magnify loneliness, isolation and even depression among older adults. Therefore, try to keep them as socially connected and engaged as possible. Frequent phone calls and FaceTime chats can raise their spirits. Social outings and visits to say hi will also brighten their day while enabling you to “check in” on them firsthand.
  1. Driving accidents – Senior adults are involved in more car accidents than any other age group, and slippery winter conditions make the likelihood of a mishap even higher. If your loved one is still driving, safety experts say they should avoid using their car in difficult winter conditions. They can also prepare for unexpected emergencies by having their car “winterized,” always carrying a charged cell phone in the car and having emergency supplies on hand such as warm blankets and a first-aid kit.

    An AAA membership can also be very beneficial to older drivers. The AARP article, “How to Drive Safely On Winter Roads,” provides more helpful safety tips for seniors. 
  1. Carbon monoxide and fires – If inadequately maintained, fireplaces, wood and gas stoves, and gas appliances can leak dangerous amounts of carbon monoxide that can be deadly. These and other devices such as space heaters can also start fires.

    To assure your loved one’s safety, have their fireplace inspected annually and place working smoke detectors and battery-operated carbon monoxide detectors in strategic places around the home.

  2. Power outages – Loss of power during winter storms is another primary safety concern for seniors. If there is an outage, contact your older loved one immediately to make sure they are safe and to assess their needs. Their home should have an easily accessible flashlight, a battery-powered radio, bottled water, food sources that won’t spoil and an alternative source of heat.

The CDC article, “What You Need to Know When the Power Goes Out Unexpectedly,” provides more helpful information on how to prepare for and cope with a winter power failure. It includes valuable tips on staying warm, making contact with outside help, and food and water safety.

“Becoming familiar with winter’s special hazards for seniors and following these winter safety tips can go a long way toward keeping your loved one safe when the temperatures plummet,” says Collin.

“You can also consider Respite Care for your loved one’s safety in periods of dangerous cold if you live a distance away or cannot be there to assist them. Our Respite Care services offer your loved one a safe, welcoming environment, nutritious meals, a daily calendar of activities and programs, and the company of others when you can’t be there to help.”

For more helpful senior living and senior care information, we invite you to read our monthly articles and tips on a variety of important senior health topics. We also welcome you to stop in for a tour to see for yourself why we’ve been rated “Best in Senior Care.”

We’d Love to Hear Your Thoughts!

If you have comments or questions about our blog on keeping your senior loved one safe in the winter, we’d love to hear from you. We also encourage you to share any of your caregiving experiences with us in our comments section.

A Healthy Tradition of Care and Wellness

There are times when the challenges associated with advanced age, a prolonged illness or a chronic condition make 24-hour care and support a necessity. At Bryn Mawr Terrace, we’re always here for you and your family. Our compassionate, professional team treats our residents as family and respects each of them as the individuals they are, all with their own unique life story.

We understand that each one of our residents has unique needs and desires, so we deliver personalized care and services that are tailored to each individual. The amenities and activities offered within our community are designed to keep our residents happy, fulfilled and living well. From delicious dining to a variety of social programming, we offer a lifestyle that’s meant to be lived!

Located near Bryn Mawr Hospital, Bryn Mawr Terrace – part of Main Line Senior Care Alliance – has provided exceptional care and services to seniors and their families since 1966. It’s a tradition we’re proud to continue.

Today, Bryn Mawr Terrace serves as a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC), offering a range of services – including short-term rehabilitation, traditional nursing care, independent living, personal care, memory care, restorative care and respite care – all in a setting that is warm, welcoming and nurturing.

For more information on Bryn Mawr Terrace and our variety of needs-based lifestyle services, please call us at 610.525.8300 or contact us online.

Disclaimer: The articles and tip sheets on this website are offered by Bryn Mawr Terrace and Main Line Senior Care Alliance for general informational and educational purposes and do not constitute legal or medical advice. For legal or medical advice, please contact your attorney or physician.

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