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Stay Warm, Stay Safe

January 15th, 2014

Even in temperate California, winter can get surprisingly—and dangerously—cold. Cold weather can pose serious risks to older adults, who are more susceptible to hypothermia, skin problems, and falls caused by slippery or icy conditions. Here are some tips on keeping your special senior safe during winter’s colder days.

Older adults are generally more vulnerable to hypothermia (a dangerously low internal body temperature caused by exposure), but some are particularly susceptible. The sick, frail, and very old have higher risks, as do those who cannot regulate temperatures normally. Certain medications can prevent the body from regulating temperature, including anti-depressants, sedatives, tranquilizers, and cardiovascular drugs.

Temperatures do not have to be at or below freezing for hypothermia to occur, especially for those with high risk levels. If the senior in your life lives alone, arrange for daily check-ins, with you or a neighbor. Make sure their living space is properly insulated, and warm clothing like hats and scarves, and blankets, are easily accessible. If you believe someone may be a victim of hypothermia, call emergency services immediately.

Skin Problems
Dry skin might be less dangerous than hypothermia, but it can still be uncomfortable! As we age, our skin becomes thinner, drier, and more fragile, which means that it’s more susceptible to cracks and tears in winter’s cold, dry air. If the senior in your life struggles with dry skin, consider adding a humidifier to their heating system. Make sure that they stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and other fluids, and use rich moisturizers.

Even though it doesn’t snow in California, we still can get frost over night, and rain and morning dew can make sidewalks, stairs, and other outside surfaces slippery. Make sure that your special senior wears sensible footwear with non-skid soles, and avoid going outside when conditions are especially cold or wet.

Stay Warm, Safely
Finally, make sure that your senior is staying warm safely. Seniors often have reduced sensitivity to temperature, which is what makes them so susceptible to hypothermia—but it also can cause burns from too-hot water. Set their water heater to 120 degrees F or lower to avoid scalding burns, and make sure they know to turn on cold water first and then add hot water.

This winter, stay safe and stay warm! Don’t let the cold weather get you down—plan cozy get-togethers with your loved ones and enjoy your winter!