Cold Weather Safety for Older Adults
Cold weather can be unpleasant, sure, but if you’re an older adult or have any comorbidities, the cold is more than just an inconvenience: it can pose serious health risks. Prolonged exposure in cold temperatures can cause hypothermia, which is dangerous unto itself. But with hypothermia, a host of other serious issues can crop up quickly. Older adults who succumb to hypothermia are at risk for heart attack, kidney problems, and even liver damage. What might feel like a short amount of time spent in cold temperatures could have any one of these serious and irreversible downstream effects. That’s why it’s so important to understand the signs of hypothermia, and know how to avoid it at all costs. Learning how to enjoy the cold weather safely is pivotal for the overall health and well-being of older adults.
First, what is an “unsafe” cold temperature? Believe it or not, prolonged time spent at a temperature of under 65 degrees can be dangerous. Though it’s expensive to run a heater on high for long periods, it’s essential: older adults should not let the temperatures in their homes dip below 68 degrees. You can help defer expensive heating costs by properly sealing windows with weather stripping or caulk. Unused rooms can be closed off: roll up towels to wedge beneath doors so that heat doesn’t seep through. You can also close off heating vents to those rooms to ensure no precious heat is lost. And while it’s tempting to use a space heater to keep yourself snug during the winter, be wary: space heaters are associated with a number of deadly fires every year. Read the safety instructions carefully when using a space heater, and if at all possible, try never to fall asleep when a space heater is on in the room.
With your heaters set to at least 68 degrees in the home, older adults are off to a good start in deterring the risk of hypothermia. Still, it’s important to keep bundled up. When resting or relaxing, cover legs with blankets. Wear a hat at night that covers ears. Also, it can help to wear long underwear beneath pajamas or house clothes when the weather outside is particularly cold.
If it’s time to venture outside, stay safe. Always layer up: it is more beneficial to wear lots of loose layers than a few tight or thick layers – this is because air trapped between layers of clothing serve to insulate the body. It’s a highly effective way to keep yourself warm, even against biting winds and snow. Wear waterproof boots with multiple layers of thick socks, a hat that covers your ears, and scarves that fully encase your neck (loosely). If your clothing becomes wet from snow or rain, change immediately. Wet clothing can cool the body at an incredible rate and is very dangerous when temperatures are low. And whenever possible, try to limit the amount of time spent outdoors.
No matter how cautious you’ve been in preparing for the cold weather, it is still possible to become afflicted with hypothermia. Certain older adults are at greater risk than others. For example, if you have diabetes, you can become increasingly susceptible. Certain medications can slow blood flow, which can quickly contribute to hypothermia, so if you’re on medication talk to your doctor about whether or not this puts you at increased risk. Alcohol also slows the blood: if you’re drinking, be aware that this could increase hypothermia risk. And be aware of your state: hypothermia manifests itself initially with trembling, slowed speech, irritability or confusion, cold feet and hands, and a puffy and swollen face. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, seek help immediately.
Enjoy the cold weather – it can be quite beautiful outside and pleasant to experience – but remember to stay safe! The knowledgeable and caring folks at Main Line Adult Day Center are here to help you get the most out of your time spent outdoors, and can help you understand the risks of cold weather exposure and avoid the costs. Come talk to us at Main Line Adult Day Center today to find out how we’re helping older adults stay safe and have fun, no matter the weather!