California does not have extreme winters like other parts of the United States. However, in this region we do have areas that experience freezing temperatures, ice and snow. Regardless, when the temperature drops, older adults run a higher risk of health problems and injuries related to the weather, including hypothermia, depression and falls. Like most things in life, it is better to be prepared. Here are a few precautions everyone should take, especially older adults, this time of year.
Hypothermia occurs when your body temperature drops to a dangerous level. Your body temperature can drop when you are out in the cold for an extended time because it begins to lose heat quickly. Older adults are at an increased risk of hypothermia due to changes that happen to your body with aging. Warning signs include cold skin that is pale or ashy; feeling very tired, confused and sleepy; feeling weak; problems walking; slowed breathing or heart rate. Call 911 if you think you or someone else has hypothermia. To prevent Hypothermia stay indoors at a temperature that is 65 degrees or warmer, stay dry, dress in layers, and wear winter clothing (jackets, hats, gloves, scarves).
Rain, ice and snow can make it easy to slip and fall. Make sure that walkways are free of wet leaves or ice and snow. Always wear non-skid soles and walk with a rubber tipped cane if needed.
Carbon Monoxide poisoning becomes an issue during the winter months when it is common to use the fireplace or other heating sources, such as natural gas, kerosene and other fuels. Unless fireplaces, wood and gas stoves and gas appliances are properly vented, cleaned, and used, they can leak dangerous amounts of carbon monoxide—a deadly gas that you cannot see or smell. These and other appliances, such as space heaters, can also be fire hazards. Warning signs of carbon monoxide poisoning are headache, weakness, nausea or vomiting, dizziness, confusion, blurred vision, and loss of consciousness. If you think you may have carbon monoxide poisoning, get into fresh air and get medical care immediately. Take precautions to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning by having flues inspected, opening a window a crack when using alternative heating, having working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your home, and never heating your home with gas or charcoal grill not made for home heating.
Driving during the winter can be hazardous for anyone. But is especially dangerous for older adults who may not drive as often anymore or whose reflexes may not be as quick as they once were. Get your car serviced before winter hits. Check things like oil, antifreeze, tires, battery and wipers to make driving safer. Always travel with a cell phone and stock your car with emergency supplies.
Prepare for power outages that are caused from winter storms. Made sure there are flashlights and warm blankets readily available. A battery powered radio is also helpful. Keep non-perishable food on hand and make sure to stay warm.
Lastly, we rarely think of the effects of winter on our emotional health. Many older adults become depressed during the cold months because they either suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or they become more isolated. Family members and neighbors should check in daily to prevent this from happening.
Winter is a beautiful time of year. With the correct precautions it can be a safe time of year, too.