Cold Weather Safety Tips for Seniors from V!VA Barrhaven
Published on January 21, 2022
Between snowstorms and frigid temperatures, winter can pose a series of health and safety risks for a lot of people. Seniors in particular run a much higher risk of getting ill or suffering injuries than anyone else. Those with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, thyroid problems, or arthritis are at an even greater risk of suffering through the wrath of winter weather. Symptoms of these conditions can be exacerbated by extreme cold, or injuries caused by snow and ice. Keep reading for some useful cold weather safety tips for seniors to prevent illness and injury.
How Cold Weather Affects Seniors
Before diving into measures to protect seniors this winter, it’s important to understand some of the imminent challenges they face due to cold weather conditions.
Aggravates Chronic Pain Symptoms
Cold weather can cause arthritis and other types of chronic pain flareups. Increased atmospheric pressure causes muscles and tendons in our bodies to constantly expand and contract. Cold temperatures have also been linked to stiffening joints caused by an influx of fluids in the joints. As the temperatures drop, these fluids become increasingly viscous and place a lot of resistance on the muscles and tendons which inhibits a full range of motion.
Increases Heart Problems
Pre-existing heart conditions and their symptoms can be exacerbated during the winter months. The cold temperatures force the heart to work harder to pump blood through the vessels to keep the body warm. Seniors with heart problems can go into cardiac arrest if they overexert themselves in cold weather conditions.
If you have heart problems, then it’s best to stay out of the cold as much as possible, refrain from engaging in strenuous physical activities, and leave the snow shovelling to a professional.
Risk of Hypothermia
Hypothermia, also known as exposure, is a condition that causes your body temperature to drop to dangerously low levels. As you get older, your body’s ability to retain heat decreases, which is why seniors are more susceptible to hypothermia in the winter months. The longer you stay outside exposed to frigid temperatures, the more heat your body releases. On top of that, your heart and other organs are working double time just to function normally and retain as much of your body heat as possible. Organ shutdown is one of the biggest risks of prolonged exposure to frigid temperatures.
Symptoms of hypothermia include cold and pale skin, disorientation, sluggishness, sleepiness, slow breathing, lowered heart rate, difficulty walking, and feeling weak. If you or someone you know is experiencing hypothermia, call 911 immediately.
Frostbite is another common physical casualty caused by prolonged exposure to extremely cold temperatures and winter conditions. It typically affects your extremities that are furthest away from your heart, such as your fingers and toes. These are parts of your body that receive the least amount of heat and are therefore most susceptible to frostbite.
This condition damages your skin and the tissues underneath it. Visually, the affected area may start to develop a black or blue colour almost like a bruise. Frostnip is a mild and treatable form of frostbite that hasn’t spread to your internal tissues. Extreme frostbite, however, is a worst-case scenario that can result in limb loss or the need for amputation as it kills the tissues between your bones and muscles. In addition to skin discolouration, other symptoms of frostbite can include a prickling feeling or numbness in the extremities. People with poor circulation are most likely to contract frostbite.
Sunlight is a source of energy for humans and for plants. Lack of adequate sunlight during the winter months decreases energy levels, which can make us feel sluggish and depressed. It can also have a significantly negative impact on normal sleep patterns.
Without sunlight, the brain doesn’t release as much serotonin—the happiness hormone—and instead releases an abundance of melatonin at all hours of the day. This makes us sleepy when we should be energized and awake, thus disrupting our normal sleep-wake cycle and making it harder to get a good night’s sleep. Some people develop poor sleeping habits or even insomnia during the winter as a result.
Lack of proper sleep also impacts are other functions such as slowing down motor skills and cognitive capabilities. It can also negatively impact immune functions.
Risk of Contracting Viral Infections
Flu season in Canada starts in November and lasts until March of the next year. Cold temperatures are ideal for spreading viruses and this increases the risk of seniors—especially those with decreased immunity or other pre-existing conditions—to contract viral infections.
Icy conditions increase the risk of slip-and-falls and car accidents among seniors. Seniors are more likely to suffer serious or life-threatening injuries such as broken bones, bruising, or internal bleeding from a bad fall because they tend to have a weaker bone structure.
Cold Weather Safety Tips for Seniors Living in Barrhaven
- Stay active. Going for short walks or doing mild exercises is a great way to improve your health and reduce chronic pain symptoms or heart problems.
- Take hypothermia precautions. If you do have to brave the cold, make sure to bundle up with lots of layers and warm clothing. Avoid going outside on extremely cold days.
- Prevent frostbite. Cover up your entire body as much as possible and don’t leave any skin exposed to cold temperatures for too long.
- Prevent illnesses. Stay away from people who are sick, take vitamins, and make sure all of your vaccines are up to date.
- Take vitamins to supplement sunlight deficiency. Take vitamin C for healthy immune support and vitamin D—the sunshine vitamin—for sunshine deficiency. If possible, try to eat more foods that contain these vitamins as well.
- Tips to avoid falls. Hold on to railings when going up and down stairs outside, watch out for ice, make sure walkways and steps are completely clear, wear winter boots with excellent traction. Winterize your cane or walker with spike-like attachments on the ends to make it easier to walk through snow.
Winter Senior Care at Retirement Residences in Barrhaven
V!VA Retirement Communities has a number of important winter safety precautions in place. As far as retirement homes in Barrhaven go, we’re one of the top-rated for senior safety and welfare. Senior living in Barrhaven doesn’t get much better than this. Our residents lead full, happy, active, and independent lives while still getting the specialized care and attention they need from our on-staff caregivers. Contact us today to learn more.