With dangerous winter weather in the forecast, now is the time for seniors and their loved ones to brush up on cold weather safety tips.
"Winter can be a difficult time, as the harsh conditions especially impact seniors," said Jeff Huber, president of Home Instead, Inc. "We want to make sure seniors and their loved ones are aware of simple ways they can stay safe and warm throughout the season."
Those over the age of 65 account for nearly half of all hypothermia deaths. As the body ages, the ability to maintain a normal internal body temperature decreases, creating an insensitivity to moderately cold temperatures. Seniors may not realize they are putting themselves at risk until symptoms appear. Symptoms of hypothermia include: shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness. If symptoms are present, immediate medical attention is necessary.
The leading reason for hypothermia in the elderly is due to poorly heated homes, which is entirely preventable. Follow these simple tips to ensure a warm household.
Keep the thermostat at 65 degrees, at least. Consistently check it to make sure your home is sufficiently warm. Even as heating costs rise, your safety should be a priority.
Put a carbon monoxide detector near where you sleep.
Ensure that there is adequate insulation, and check and clean the fireplace and furnace. Furnace filters should be replaced monthly.
Minimize drafts by filling old socks with sand and using them in drafty windowsills and door jams. Weather-strip around windows and doors. Keep doors to unused rooms closed and close curtains at night.
Add an extra blanket to the bed and warm the bed in advance with a hot water bottle. Avoid electric blankets - it may be difficult to operate the controls if the temperature needs to be adjusted in the night.
Dress in layers of loose fitting clothing. If you go outside, make sure your head is covered.
Every year, more than 1.6 million seniors end up in the emergency room because of a fall. With icy conditions, the chances of falling are even greater.
Take a couple minutes per day and stretch your limbs in order to loosen muscles.
Stay inside - make arrangements for someone to shovel and salt driveways and walkways. Professional caregivers can assist with to-do items, such as bringing in the mail and/or picking up groceries.
Wear shoes or boots with a non-skid sole.
Have handrails installed on outside walls for frequently used walkways.
If you use a cane or walker, check the rubber tips to make sure they are not worn smooth.
Winter weather can take a toll on everyone, especially seniors. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can occur in seniors and impact their emotional health. Some signs to watch for with SAD include: a loss of energy, an increased appetite and an enhanced feeling of lethargy and tiredness. If symptoms are present, talk to your medical provider about treatment options.
Additionally, winter storms can be unpredictable. It is important to be prepared in case of an emergency.
Build a network
Stay in touch in with family, friends and neighbors. Schedule phone calls, or enlist the help of a professional caregiver to come in for an hour a week.
Make arrangements for assistance in case of a blizzard or power outage. Keep important numbers in an emergency kit, along with non-perishable foods, water and medications.
Be familiar with your local resources. Visit www.ready.gov/seniors, www.noaa.gov or www.redcross.org for more information about cold weather.
As temperatures drop this winter, the American Red Cross offers ten steps people can take to stay safe during the cold weather.
1. Layer up! Wear layers of lightweight clothing to stay warm. Gloves and a hat will help prevent losing your body heat.
2. Don't forget your furry friends. Bring pets indoors. If they can't come inside, make sure they have enough shelter to keep them warm and that they can get to unfrozen water.
3. Remember the three feet rule. If you are using a space heater, place it on a level, hard surface and keep anything flammable at least three feet away - things such as paper, clothing, bedding, curtains or rugs.
4. Requires supervision - Turn off space heaters and make sure fireplace embers are out before leaving the room or going to bed.
5. Don't catch fire! If you are using a fireplace, use a glass or metal fire screen large enough to catch sparks and rolling logs.
6. Protect your pipes. Run water, even at a trickle, to help prevent your pipes from freezing. Open the kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. Be sure to move any harmful cleaners and household chemicals out of the reach of children. Keep the garage doors closed if there are water lines in the garage.
7. Better safe than sorry. Keep the thermostat at the same temperature day and night. Your heating bill may be a little higher, but you could avoid a more costly repair job if your pipes freeze and burst.
8. The kitchen is for cooking. Never use a stove or oven to heat your home.
. Use generators outside. Never operate a generator inside the home, including in the basement or garage.
10. Knowledge is power. Don't hook a generator up to the home's wiring. The safest thing to do is to connect the equipment you want to power directly to the outlets on the generator.