Senior’s Guide for Winter Safety
With the holiday season in full swing it’s important to take time for one’s self.
Whether it’s spending time with loved ones or cozying up to a cup of hot chocolate, winter is the perfect time to get some rest and relaxation. However, winter can also be very dangerous as the roads are slick, sidewalks are icy, and visibility is limited.
In winter, falls, accidents and injuries are more likely to happen, leading to an increase in hospitalization. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, nearly 9,000 hospitalizations were due to falls in 2016-2017. As temperatures can drop to as cold as -40 °C, hypothermia, frost bite and joint pain can be the product of prolonged exposure to the cold.
For seniors, the dangers in winter are heightened as mobility is limited, sight is reduced, and reaction time is slowed. This can lead to more slips on the ice, car accidents and complications with other illnesses. The cold alone can cause major health issues for those suffering with diabetes, thyroid issues, or even Parkinson’s Disease.
As we age, we lose the ability to retain body heat and the ability to sense the cold. For diabetes patients in particular, decreased sensitivity in the extremities may lead to a delayed response to the cold. As stated by Dr. Sharon A. Brangman, a professor of medicine interviewed for the New York Times, “some drugs, like beta blockers, can decrease the heart rate, which can reduce the circulation of blood to hands and feet.
Calcium channel blockers, used in hypertension, work by relaxing the blood vessels, which can increase heat loss. High cholesterol can reduce blood flow, too. And thyroid conditions can affect people’s ability to regulate their temperature”.
Even in the home, cold may sometimes seem unavoidable. As we age, blood vessels lose elasticity and the fat layer under our skin thins, leading to a decrease in circulation and a loss in body heat. Furthermore, metabolic responses are delayed and thus the body’s response to the cold may be slower.
Though winter can sound daunting, keeping up one’s body temperature and adopting the best safe practices to survive winter can be easy.
Understanding the real dangers
• When your body temperature has dipped below normal due to the body losing heat faster than it can make it
• Caused by prolonged exposure to cold temperatures
• Slows down body movements, though process and respiratory system
• gets more detrimental as exposure to the cold increases
• Early signs include dizziness, confusion, tiredness, pale skin, nausea, swollen face, and shivering (only in some cases)
• Late signs include slurred speech, slow and shallow breathing, reduced and weak heart rate, blacking out
• Move to a warmer place and remove wet or cold clothing
• Wrap yourself/person in a warm blanket, towels, coats
• Have something warm to drink (avoid alcohol or drinks with caffeine)
• Do not use heating pads, warm baths or rubbing to cause heat as it could cause nerve, muscle or tissue damage
• As Hypothermia comes in stages, call 9-1-1 if a person with hypothermia exhibits unconsciousness, low or shallow breathing or if the above conditions worsen
• When small blood vessels in your skin get inflamed after prolonged exposure to cold
• These blood vessels get red and itchy, swell and cause blisters on your fingers, toes and cheeks
• Ulcers can occur in severe cases
• Contrary to popular belief, Chilblains can occur even when temperatures aren’t below freezing
• Avoid scratching as it could cause blisters and blood vessels to burst
• Move indoors and remove cold and wet clothing
• Slowly warm the skin with blankets or coats, don’t massage or apply direct heat to skin
• Corticosteroid creams/lotions reduce inflammation and irritation of the skin. Feel free to use corticosteroid creams to reduce the effects of Chilblains (do not use if you have any previous skin infections or otherwise advised by your doctor)
• Keep blisters and ulcers clean and covered
• Often you can’t feel it as the affected skin and tissue go numb after prolonged cold exposure
• Fingers, toes and face (nose, ears, etc.) are first affected and can lead to severe damage
• Results in yellowish-gray skin color with a firm feel due to significant freezing
• Move indoors and remove cold or wet clothing
• Do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes
• Immerse affected area in warm not hot water (comfortable temperature)
• Warm affected area using natural body heat (i.e. place hands under armpits)
• Do not rub affected area as it may cause muscle or tissue damage
• Do not use heating pads or radiators to warm affected areas
• Seek medical attention if you experience blistering, increased pain, fever, discharge or loss of motor skills
• When your feet are exposed too long to cold and wet conditions
• Like chilblains, trench foot can happen in non-freezing conditions
• Due to heat expenditure, circulation is often cut off to your feet
• Signs of trench foot include redness, swollen skin, tingling pain, leg cramps, blisters, ulcers and gangrene (in severe cases)
• Remove shoes/wet socks
• Dry the feet
• Avoid walking on feet as it may cause damage
• Since trench foot is like frostbite, a lot of the same solutions can be applied
of winter and how best to avoid injury can lead to a fun, safe and stress-free holiday season.
General Winter Safety Tips:
Even if the above illnesses are avoided, it’s still important to be safe during the winter months. Though the conditions might not warrant illness, it doesn’t mean there are no dangers that could arise. Whether it’s ice, snow or personal isolation, winter can still make its impact regardless of its intensity. Taking general precautions can make all the difference.
• Stay Warm Indoors
• A comfortable temperature inside is around 20-22 °C
• If heating a home is an issue, wear thicker socks, coats, or thermal undershirts to compensate for the cold
• Be sure to check your batteries on your carbon monoxide detector as fireplaces, heaters and furnaces run rampant in the winter
• If the power goes out at home, ensure you have flashlights, blankets and non-perishable foods to stay warm and fed until help arrives
• Beware of Poor Outdoor Conditions
• Winter weather can lead to a buildup of snow, ice and mud on sidewalks and walkways
• In whiteout conditions, visibility is highly reduced
• If you need to travel, ensure you have the proper clothing to do so
• If you need to drive, ask a caregiver (at Senior Homecare by Angels we provide this service), friend or family member to do so for you
• Purchasing winter tires, good wipers and getting your car serviced can help you in the poorest of conditions
• Investing in shoe accessories (ice cleats) will increase your traction on the ice
• Use ice melt or sand around your home to avoid slips and falls
• If you need to shovel snow, ask for help! Don’t do it all on your own or even hire someone else to do it for you
• Wear Appropriate Clothing Outdoors
• Wear winter jackets, hats, boots and gloves to insulate yourself from the cold
• Use light, layered, loose-fitting clothing under an insulated waterproof winter coat to ensure for maximum warmth
• As 50% of body heat is lost through the head, wearing a toque, hood or thick hat can reduce loss of body heat
• Consume a Balanced Diet
• Focus on vitamin enriched foods such as fruits and vegetables to increase your overall energy
• As Vitamin D is reduced in the winter, consuming, milk, grains or seafood can remedy this issue
• Keep well hydrated by drinking water, hot tea and/or apple cider (be careful of unneeded sugar and calories)
• Fight Wintertime Depression
• Since it’s easier to stay inside, feelings of isolation and loneliness are common
• To avoid this, check in on loved ones whether it’s a quick phone call or a personal visit when the conditions permit
• Using the internet can help you connect with friends, family or extracurricular groups. Ask a family member, caregiver or friend on help navigating the world wide web
• Use apps such as Skype, FaceTime or Facebook Messenger for more personalized video calls
CDC Cold Related Illnesses:
Heart Attacks and Winter:
Why Am I so Cold?:
Best Alberta Winter Driving Practices:
Cold Weather Safety:
Canadian Statistics on Slips and Falls:
Winter can be a tough time of year for families and seniors alike. At Senior Homecare by Angels we can help identify points of interest and vulnerability in everyday life and provide home care solutions – making it easier to navigate the winter months. Book one of our free in-home consultations to get started!
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The Senior Homecare by Angels team is proud to provide your elderly loved ones with the best home care in Calgary. Our Home Care Services help seniors to remain safe and independent at home. We have a wealth of experience in providing all types of care under many different circumstances. Our wonderful group of caregivers are bonded, insured and have current police back ground checks completed.
Please don’t hesitate to contact us for a complimentary in-home consultation. You can call us at 403-862-0129 or toll-free (outside of Calgary) at 1-877-209-6142 or visit our Contact Us page to complete and submit a simple contact form!
Gerry Gatto is a trained health care administrator and the owner of Senior Homecare® By Angels a Calgary – based company. Helping Calgary seniors remain in their home and maintain their independence with the assistance of dedicated caregiver.