Fact Sheet: Winter Safety for Older Adults

The winter season brings holidays and good cheer along with cooler days and cozy nights by the fire. On the other hand, it may also bring short-term illness, isolation at home and even holiday weight gain. Follow these prevention steps so Jack Frost doesn’t nip at your nose!

Health Risks

Hypothermia

Just being “really cold” can you make you very sick. Older adults lose body heat faster and tend to produce less body heat than younger adults. So being outside in the cold for too long or even in a cold house can cause a drop in body temperature resulting in hypothermia. Hypothermia is a serious problem as an older adult with low body temperatures can suffer from heart attacks, kidney problems or liver damage. Symptoms include shivering, cold or ashy skin, feeling tired or confused and slowed breathing. Protect yourself and stay warm by dressing with hats, scarves and loose layers of clothing and stay indoors with heat when it’s very cold or windy.

Short-term Illness

Winter is flu season and while the timing and duration of the flu varies, it usually peaks in January. The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness and at times can lead to death. According to the Centers for Disease Control influenza (and pneumonia) are the fifth leading cause of death among people 65 and older. Other common seasonal short-term illnesses include pneumonia and the common cold. Reduce your risk by eating healthy foods, getting plenty of rest, avoiding tobacco and getting a flu vaccine every year. The CDC also states that keeping your hands clean is one of the most important ways to prevent the spread of infection and illness. Wash your hands often and effectively by scrubbing your hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds then drying with a paper towel. Carry hand sanitizer as a back-up.

Accidents

Wintery weather conditions can increase your risk of various accidents.

Winter Activities

Despite less than favorable weather conditions and cooler temperatures, winter time can still offer an abundance of activities. Staying active both physically and mentally is beneficial to your overall health and well being. So keep busy this winter and enjoy:

Holidays

Many often find their busy wintery days are filled with holiday celebrations and socials with family and friends. It is great to connect and celebrate but don’t let this be a time of stress, weight gain or illness.

Winter Blues

Not feeling the same good cheer as your friends? Winter time offers shorter days with less sunshine, cooler temperatures, questionable weather and perhaps some holiday stress and absence of family and friends. This can intensify feelings of loneliness, sadness, isolation, anxiety and cause the “winter blues.” An estimated 2 million adults 65 and older have a depressive illness and it is often experienced more during the holiday season.

People experience the winter blues beginning in the fall and suffer a depressed mood lasting until spring. Those with winter blues experience changes in their mood, energy level and ability to concentrate brought on by a decrease in exposure to sunlight that affects our bodies’ hormone production. The winter blues can also lead to a more severe illness like Seasonal Affective Disorder or even long-term depres-sion.

Here are some tips to reduce your risk or better manage your symptoms
of winter blues:

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