Winter Safety Tips for Older Adults
Tools and Tips
When the temperature drops, older adults run a higher risk of health problems and injuries related to the weather, including hypothermia, frostbite, and falls in ice and snow. It’s important that they, and those who care for them, take certain precautions at this time of year. Here’s what you need to know.
Older adults tend to produce less body heat than younger people, and it’s harder for them to tell when the temperature is too low. This can be dangerous because when your body is in the cold for too long, it begins to lose heat quickly. The result can be hypothermia, a dangerous drop in body temperature.
Know the Warning Signs of hypothermia: lots of shivering; cold skin that is pale or ashy; feeling very tired, confused and sleepy; feeling weak; problems walking; slowed breathing or heart rate. Call 911 if you think you or someone else has hypothermia.
Stay Indoors when it’s very cold outside, especially if it’s also very windy. Keep indoor temperatures at about 65 degrees. If you have to go outside, don’t stay out for very long, and go indoors if you start shivering.
Stay Dry Wet clothing chills your body quickly
Wear Layers Wearing two or three thinner layers of loose-fitting clothing is warmer than a single layer of thick clothing. Always wear layers, as well as:
- a hat
- gloves or mittens (mittens are warmer)
- a coat and boots
- a scarf to cover your mouth and nose and protect your lungs from cold air
Extreme cold can cause frostbite-damage to the skin that can go all the way down to the bone. Frostbite usually affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers and toes. In severe cases, frostbite can result in loss of limbs. People with heart disease and other circulation problems are more likely to get frostbite.
Cover Up all parts of your body when you go outside. If your skin turns red or dark or starts hurting, go inside right away.
Know the Warning Signs of frostbite: skin that’s white or ashy (for people with darker skin) or grayish-yellow; skin that feels hard or waxy; numbness. If you think you or someone else has frostbite, call for medical help immediately. A person with frostbite may also have hypothermia, so check for those symptoms, too.
If Frostbite Occurs place frostbitten parts of your body in warm (not hot) water.
Injury While Shoveling Snow
When it’s cold, your heart works extra hard to keep you warm. Working hard, such as shoveling show, may put too much strain on your heart, especially if you have heart disease. Shoveling can also be dangerous if you have problems with balance, or “thin bones” (osteoporosis)
Ask Your Healthcare Provider If It’s Safe for you to shovel snow or do other hard work in the cold.
It is easy to slip and fall in the winter, especially in icy and snowy conditions.
- Carefully Shovel Steps & Walkways to your home or hire someone to shovel for you.Do not walk on icy or snowy sidewalks; look for sidewalks that are dry and have been cleared.
- Wear Boots With Non-skid Soles so you’re less likely to slip when you walk.
- If You Use a Cane, Replace the Rubber Tip Before it is Worn Smooth. You might also buy (at a medical supply store) an ice pick-like attachment that fits onto the end of the cane to help keep you from slipping when you walk.
Fires and Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Burning wood, natural gas, kerosene and other fuels produces a deadly gas that you cannot see or smell called carbon monoxide. Unless fireplaces, wood and gas stoves and gas appliances are properly vented, cleaned, and used, they can leak dangerous amounts of carbon monoxide. These and other appliances, such as kerosene and electric heaters, can also be fire hazards.
- Call an Inspector. Have chimneys and flues inspected yearly and cleaned when necessary. (Ask your local fire department to recommend an inspector or look up “chimney cleaning” for your area.)
- Open a Window. Just a crack will do – when using a kerosene stove.
- Use Smoke Detectors. Put a smoke detector and battery-operated carbon monoxide detector in areas where you use fireplaces, wood stoves, or kerosene heaters.
- Be Careful With Space Heaters. Make sure space heaters are at least 3 feet away from anything that might catch fire, such as curtains, bedding and furniture.
- Keep a Fire Extinguisher that can be used for a variety of types of fires, including chemical fires, in areas where you use fireplaces, wood stoves and kerosene heaters.
- Never Try to Heat Your home Using a Gas Stove. Charcoal grill, or other stove not made for home heating.
Accidents While Driving
Adults 65 and older are involved in more car accidents per mile driven than those in nearly all other age groups. Because winter driving can be more hazardous you should:
- Have your Car ‘Winterized’ before the bad weather hits. This means having the antifreeze, tires, and windshield wipers checked and changed if necessary.
- Take a Cell Phone with you when driving in bad weather. Always let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to arrive, so they can call for help if you’re late.
- Do Not Drive on Icy Roads, overpasses, or bridges if possible; look for another route.
- Stock your Car With Basic Emergency Supplies, such as:
- a first aid kit
- extra warm clothes
- booster cables
- a windshield scraper
- a shovel
- rock salt, a bag of sand or cat litter (to pour on ice or snow in case your wheels get stuck)
- a container of water and canned or dried foods and can opener
- a flashlight
How to beat the heat
In the summer the combination of high heat, high humidity, and smog can be very dangerous. You need to be extra careful, those especially at risk during these weather conditions include:
- The elderly
- People with certain chronic illnesses, such as heart or lung conditions or people unable to move or change position by themselves
- Infants and preschool children
- People who exercise vigorously or are involved in strenuous work outdoors for prolonged periods
- People taking certain medications, for example, for mental health conditions. (Please consult your doctor or pharmacist).
How to avoid heat related illness:
- Drink lots of water and natural juices even if you don’t feel very thirsty.
- Avoid going out in the blazing sun or heat when possible. If you must go outside, stay in the shade as much as possible and plan to go out early in the morning or evening when it is cooler and smog levels may not be as high as in the afternoon. Wear a hat.
- Take advantage of air conditioned or cool places such as shopping malls, libraries, community centres or a friend’s place.
- Try to spend some time near the lake or waterfront where it is cooler.
- If you don’t have air conditioning, keep shades or drapes drawn and blinds closed on the sunny side of your home, but keep windows slightly open.
- Keep electric lights off or turned down low.
- Take a cool bath or shower periodically or cool down with cool, wet towels.
- Wear loose fitting, light clothing.
- Avoid heavy meals and using your oven.
- Avoid intense or moderately intense physical activity.
- Try to take it easy, and rest as much as possible.
- Never leave a child in a parked car or sleeping outside in direct sunlight.
- If you sleep outside during the day, try to sleep in the shade. Remember the sun moves, so try to sleep in a spot that will be shady for a few hours.
- Fans alone may not provide enough cooling when the temperature is high.
- Consult your doctor or pharmacist regarding side effects of your medications.
Get help from a friend, relative, or a doctor if you have the following symptoms of heat illness:
- Rapid breathing
- Weakness or fainting
- More tiredness than usual
Friends and relatives can help someone with heat illness by doing the following:
- Call for help.
- Remove excess clothing from the person.
- Cool the person with lukewarm water, by sponging or bathing.
- Move the person to a cooler location.
- Give the person sips of cool water, not ice cold water.
If you become ill, faint, have difficulty breathing or feel confused and disoriented, call your doctor.
In an emergency, call 911.
Summer Safety: Fan Facts
- Use your fan in or next to a window. Box fans are best.
- Use a fan to bring in the cooler air from outside.
- Use your fan by plugging it directly into the wall outlet. If you need an extension cord, it should be CSA (Canadian Standards Association) approved.
- Don’t use a fan in a closed room without windows or doors open to the outside.
- Don’t believe that fans cool air. They don’t. They just move the air around. Fans keep you cool by evaporating your sweat.
- Don’t use a fan to blow extremely hot air on yourself. This can cause heat exhaustion to happen faster.
If you’re afraid to open your window to use a fan, choose other ways to keep cool. See the other tips on this page.
Medications and Heat-Related Illness
Some medications make it harder for your body to control its temperature. If you are taking any of the medications listed below, you are at higher risk for heat-related illness, especially if you are doing lots of exercise or heavy work and are not drinking enough water. This is even more true if you are on 2 or more medications.
The list below is based in part on information from the Office of the Chief Coroner. Please note it is not complete. Also, some drugs have different brand names, so check with your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist to be sure.
- chlorpromazine (Thorazine, Largactil) *
- thioridazine (Mellaril) *
- perphenazine (Trilafon) *
- fluphenazine (Modecate, Moditen) *
- thiothixene (Navane) *
- trifluoperazine (Stelazine)
- prochloperazine (Stemetil)
- haloperidol (Haldol)
- clozapine (Clozaril)
- risperidone (Risperdal)
- loxapine (Loxapac, Loxitane)
- fluspirilene (IMAP)
- pimozide (Orap)
- flupenthixol (Fluanxol)
- zuclopenthixol (Clopixol)
- reserpine (Serpasil, Serpalan)
- Lithium – heavy exercise or heavy sweating in hot weather may change lithium levels, so that you may have too much or too little in your system.
* The medicines starred here may make it easier for your skin to burn. Many other medicines may also cause your skin to burn more easily. To be sure, ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist. Try to stay out of the sun. If you can’t, try to get sunscreen and wear a hat and long sleeves.
Antiparkinson drugs such as:
- benztropine (Cogentin)
- biperiden (Akineton)
- ethopropazine (Parsitan, Parsidol)
- procyclidine (Kemadrin, Procyclid)
- trihexyphenidyl (Artane, Trihexane)
- levodopa (Dopar)
- selegiline (Eldepryl)
- amantadine (Symmetrel, Symadine)
Antidepressants such as:
- amitriptyline (Elavil)
- doxepine (Sinequan)
- clomipramine (Anafranil)
- protriptyline (Vivactil)
- imipramine (Tofranil)
- desipramine (Norpramin)
- nortriptyline (Pamelor)
- fluoxetine (Prozac)
- fluvoxetine (Luvox)
- sertraline (Zoloft)
- paroxetine (Paxil)
If you also take the medicines below, you further increase your risk for heat-illness:
- some antihistamines (eg Benadryl, Chlortripolon)
- over-the-counter sleeping pills (eg Nytol)
- anti-diarrhea pills (eg Lomotil)
If you are taking any medications regularly, ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist if you need to be extra careful during hot weather.
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