It’s February, and winter is in full swing over most of the country. During the chillier months, it can be tempting to hunker down by the fireplace with a mug of hot chocolate—but this time of year, it is just as important for seniors to be active and engaged.
Make the effort to get out and about. But first, take a few simple steps to be sure your time in the “Winter Wonderland” is safe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers tips for cold weather outings. These are great ideas for anyone, especially older adults, who are at greater risk of cold weather safety challenges.
Take precautions if you travel. Listen for radio or TV reports of travel advisories issued by the National Weather Service. Avoid travel in low visibility and on ice-covered roads. If you must travel in ice or snow, let someone know your destination and when you expect to arrive. Bring a cell phone with you. Use this checklist from the National Weather Service to create a winter weather safety kit for your car.
Dress Warmly and Stay Dry
When it’s cold, wear a hat, a scarf, or a knit mask to cover the face and mouth, mittens (rather than gloves, which are not as warm), a water-resistant coat and boots, and several layers of loose-fitting clothing. Be sure the outer layer of your clothing is tightly woven, preferably wind-resistant, to reduce body heat loss. And if you begin to feel too warm, shed a layer or two. Excess perspiration increases heat loss.
Hypothermia occurs when the body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Hypothermia is most common when temperatures are very cold but can occur even at temperatures of about 40 degrees if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or submersion in cold water. Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making it difficult for the victim to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may not know it is happening and won’t be able to do anything about it.
Frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in affected areas. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. Frostbite can permanently damage the body, and severe cases can lead to amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased in people with reduced blood circulation and among people who are not dressed properly for extremely cold temperatures.
Cold weather puts a strain on the heart. If you have heart disease or high blood pressure, follow your doctor’s advice about shoveling snow or performing other outdoor tasks.
Many cold-weather injuries result from falls on ice-covered sidewalks, steps, driveways, and porches. Keep steps and walkways as free of ice as possible by using rock salt or another chemical de-icing compound. Sand may also be used on walkways to reduce the risk of slipping.
For More Information
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers information about frostbite and hypothermia and more advice about winter weather safety at http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/staysafe.