Cold temperatures, darkness, snow and ice present dangers to everyone regardless of age, but older adults can find themselves especially vulnerable during the winter months.
Below are some things senior adults can do to stay safe this winter season, along with some helpful resources to help you stay safe during the winter and all year ‘round.
16 Ways for Older Adults to Stay Safe this Winter
From getting your flu shot to having your fireplace inspected, here are 16 tips you can use to stay safe, healthy and warm during the cold weather months.
1. Keep walkways clear
Falls are among the biggest risks to a senior’s health, and that risk becomes amplified when sidewalks and driveways are slick from snow and ice.
Seniors living in apartments, condos and retirement residences may be able to count on the property managers to clear off walkways, but seniors who are still living at home may have to fend for themselves.
If you don’t have family members nearby, see if you can pay a neighborhood kid to clear your walkways for you, or hire a professional service. Also, keep a bag of salt next to the door and sprinkle a little on the ground each time you leave the house.
2. Keep your house stocked
The more you can limit the number of trips outside, the more you can reduce your risk of a fall. As winter approaches, begin stocking up on more food, toilet paper, medicine and other daily items.
Not only will this reduce the number of trips you have to make to the store during winter conditions, but the extra supplies will come in handy in the event of a large snowstorm that keeps you stranded at home.
3. Stay bundled up, even indoors
An aging body is less effective at regulating its temperature, and seniors can become less aware that their body temperature is dropping. And when you add in certain health conditions and medications that affect body temperature, it’s easy to see how dangerous the cold air can be for an older adult.
Layer up with clothing during the winter, even if you have no intentions of leaving the house. You can always shed a layer if you feel yourself getting too warm. And be sure to always wear a pair of warm socks.
4. Drink lots of water
It’s easy to relax your water intake when it’s cool outside, because you won’t feel as thirsty. But dehydration is a big risk for seniors, and it can happen easily in the winter when you may be drinking more diuretic drinks such as hot tea and coffee to stay warm.
Keep up on your water intake to stay properly hydrated for better blood circulation, kidney function, bowel movements and energy.
5. Drink less alcohol
Although we like to think that a stiff drink warms you up, alcohol actually makes you lose body heat. And because older adults should try to preserve any and all body heat when it’s cold, it doesn’t hurt to cut back on alcoholic drinks for the season.
6. Get a flu shot
Older adults are at a greater risk for developing complications from influenza. Seniors – and anyone who interacts with them, be it family members or caregivers – should get the flu shot early in flu season to reduce their risk of illness.
You may use the HealthMap Vaccine Finder to locate where in your area you can get a flu vaccine.
7. Wash your hands more often
Speaking of flu season, it doesn’t hurt to increase your hand washing during the winter months to reduce your chances of catching any bugs.
8. Open some shades
Opening up the shades and curtains in your house will let in some more natural light, which will accomplish two things:
- It will help heat the inside of your house, keeping your body temperature up and your heating bill down.
- Exposure to natural light helps ward off Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or winter depression.
Many seniors may already be suffering from feelings of isolation, which can be the groundwork for seasonal depression. Exposure to natural light helps balance the body’s serotonin and melatonin levels, which helps with mood and combats this type of depression.
9. Stay physically active
You may be accustomed to taking walks around the park during the warmer months, but winter weather keeps you cooped up inside. Don’t let your physical activity go into hibernation, however.
Walk in place or walk around the house, and do some gentle calisthenics or some light stretching. Cleaning the house is a good way to stay physically active and kills two birds with one stone.
10. Stay mentally active
It’s not just physical activity that can suffer during winter. Outdoor hobbies such as gardening take the winter off, and your trips to the park or senior center to socialize may dwindle when the weather hits.
It’s important to keep your mind engaged during winter. Join a book club, take up a new hobby like learning to knit or a new card game. Explore new recipes to make. Stock up on puzzle books or play games on the computer.
There are countless ways to stay mentally active during winter, and all of them can help keep depression and dementia at bay.
11. Watch what you eat
Winter means holidays, and holidays mean treats. But Thanksgiving leftovers and Christmas cookies can lead to more than just an increased waistline.
A healthy diet keeps your immune system operating efficiently, and you’ll be less likely to fall ill or develop other health conditions during the winter if you watch what you eat.
12. Wear the right shoes
The right kind of footwear can be crucial in winter. Wear shoes with fresh treads and sufficient ankle support anytime you leave the house.
When inside, wear a pair of warm slippers with treads for better traction on tile and hardwood floors and also to keep your feet warm.
13. Outfit your home
Cold winter weather means more time spent in the home, which is precisely where most falls occur. Consider outfitting your home with grab bars, ramps and traction strips.
14. Inspect fireplaces
We all love to cozy up to a warm fire on a cold winter night, but fireplaces that are not properly ventilated can leak deadly carbon monoxide.
Hire a professional to inspect your fireplace and chimney at the start of the winter season to make sure it’s safe for use.
15. Consider alternative modes of transportation
Winter driving is more difficult for everyone, regardless of age. But older adults with diminished vision or reaction times might be especially vulnerable when road conditions are slick.
Consider taking a bus, using a ridesharing service or the generosity of a family member or neighbor to take you where you need to go during the winter months.
16. Make arrangements
Older adults should make arrangements for a place to go in the event of a power outage due to a snow or ice storm. A home without lights or heat is not a safe place for a senior.
Senior Safety Resources
There are a number of organizations devoted to the safety and wellbeing of older adults. Use the contact information below to find out how you or your loved one can get help staying safe.
National Council on Aging
The National Council on Aging provides community programs, services, online help and advocacy for improving the quality of life of older adults.
National Aging in Place Council
The National Aging in Place Council uses education, collaboration, advocacy and accessibility to services to promote aging in place.
HelpGuide is an independently funded nonprofit organization that uses evidence-based information to improve mental health and features an entire department devoted specifically to senior adults.
Administration for Community Living
The ACL promotes the independence and health of older adults by investing in training, education, research and innovation and providing a number of programs to assist with health and wellness.
National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Program
NANASP advocates for community-based senior nutrition programs and provides helpful information about food safety, elder abuse and more.
National Institute on Aging
The National Institute on Aging provides research and information designed to support healthy aging.