Wintertime may be a nice change after the blisteringly hot days of summer, but between the freezing temperatures, heavy snowfall and the increased risk of house fires and power outages, this time of year comes with many safety hazards for the elderly living alone. That's why it's so important to provide your loved ones with these winter safety tips for seniors so they can stay safe in and around their home during the long, chilly months.
As we age, our bodies lose the ability to regulate our temperature, making us much more susceptible to hypothermia. Hypothermia is a serious condition in which your body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, damaging your heart, nervous system and other central organs.
Since your aging loved one is at a higher risk of experiencing hypothermia, which is a medical emergency, considering these guidelines for preventing hypothermia should be a central focus in your home before the cold weather hits:
- Follow the weather. Be sure your loved one listens to weather reports before going outside. If the temperature is close to or below zero, your loved one should not leave leave their home at all.
- Dress properly. Remind your loved one to wear a coat, hat, scarf, thick socks, mittens and other protective gear whenever they go outside.
- Ask for help. Any activity that causes you to sweat a lot, such as shoveling a driveway, increases the risk of hypothermia. Assist your loved one with this task or enlist the help of a friendly neighbor so your loved one stays warm.
- Know the symptoms. If your loved one spends any amount of time outside in the cold, they should be on the lookout for the symptoms of hypothermia: shivering, dizziness, confusion, nausea, difficulty breathing and slurred speech.
Avoiding Slips in the Snow
Snowfall creates beautiful scenery, but it also poses one of the biggest safety hazards for seniors. These safety tips can help your loved one stay safe while enjoying the winter wonderland that’s outside of their home:
- Plan ahead. Use rock salt on your loved one's driveway and walkways before a storm hits to help melt the snow as it falls. Your loved one should also carry a small bag of rock salt with them once the storm is over to give them more traction on icy pathways.
- Stretch regularly. Doing light stretches before going outside will help your loved one be more steady on their feet. It’s also a key step in preventing hypothermia.
- Clothing matters. Layers are important, but make sure your loved one’s clothing fits them properly and isn’t too bulky or restricting -- this increases their risk of having an accident.
- Add support. Your loved one can avoid slipping in the snow by wearing boots with nonskid soles. Using a cane or walker will also give them extra support, but they should dry the tips off after coming inside.
Reducing the Risk of In-Home Falls
When it comes to winter safety tips for seniors, a lot of attention is drawn to outdoor safety hazards, but it’s important to remember that accidents can happen in the home, too. Since older adults spend most of their time indoors during these chilly months, ensure your loved one’s safety by fall-proofing their home:
- Get rid of clutter. Remove tripping hazards, such as area rugs, electrical cords, books, magazines and anything else lying on the floor.
- Lighten up. Once the days get shorter after Daylight Saving Time ends, the dim lighting makes it much harder for your loved one to navigate their home safely. Add extra lamps and nightlights so your loved one can see clearly, day or night.
- Reduce slipping hazards. Since it’s easy for snow to get inside your loved one’s home, make sure the floor is dry and place non-slip mats in the bathroom, kitchen and near the front and back doors.
- Add support on stairs. To give your loved one extra support on stairs, add sturdy railings and non-slip treads to each step.
Removing Fire Hazards in the Home
Due to heating equipment and holiday decorations, wintertime is when most house fires occur. Since the elderly living alone are twice as likely to be injured in a fire than other age groups, it’s essential that you help your loved one remove all fire hazards in their home, like the following:
- Be careful with space heaters. Since space heaters are a common cause of house fires, keep them at least three feet away from anything flammable.
- Don’t smoke cigarettes indoors. Remind your loved one that they should never smoke in bed, let alone indoors.
- Update smoke alarms. Check the smoke alarms in your loved one’s home so they don’t have to worry about getting on a stepstool and possibly losing their balance.
- Use precaution with open flames. Place a protective screen on the fireplace, and remind your loved one that they should never leave a flame unattended.
In addition to removing these fire hazards, you should also help your loved one create a fire emergency plan. When a house fire occurs, your loved one only has two minutes to evacuate, but having this plan in place will help them get to safety quickly.
Prepping for Power Outages
Power outages are more than just an inconvenience -- they are a serious health threat for the elderly living alone. But like anything else, a little preparation goes a long way in ensuring their health and safety. Help your loved one prepare for a power outage by making sure that they have the following items in their home:
- Extra blankets
- Flashlights with extra batteries
- Bottled water
- A fully-stocked first aid kit
- A backup supply of medications
- A battery-operated radio
- A loud whistle or bell
Should the surrounding area be affected by a power outage, check in on your loved one frequently and if possible, insist that they stay with you until power is restored -- that way you know for sure that they are safe.
Guaranteed Protection Year-Round
While there are several wintertime safety hazards seniors and their caregivers should be aware of, it’s important to remember that each season brings with it its own set of dangers for the elderly living alone. Regardless of what mother nature may bring, you can enjoy the peace of mind that comes with knowing that your loved one has access to immediate help with a Medical Guardian medical alert device. We offer guaranteed protection from season to season and can send help right away -- no matter what kind of emergency affects your loved one.