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Avoiding the Hazards of Winter for Older Adults
Winter is a special time for
celebration. It should also be a time for added caution
if you or someone in your family is an older adult. It
is the season for falls, slips on icy streets and other
dangers that can be especially harmful for older adults.
"Something as simple as a fall can
be devastating for older men and women," says Dr. Evelyn
Granieri, Chief of Geriatric Medicine and Aging at
NewYork-Presbyterian/The Allen Hospital and Assistant
Professor of Medicine at Columbia University Medical
Center. "Before the cold weather arrives, it is
important to prepare."
Dr. Granieri addresses some of the
most pressing concerns mature adults have about their
health and safety during the winter:
Influenza is a serious illness that can be fatal in
older adults, who often have chronic medical
conditions. The vaccine offers some, if not
complete, protection against the flu and its
consequences and can be administered as early as
September. The flu season begins in mid-October and
runs through March.
Keep your thermostat set to at least 65 degrees to
prevent hypothermia. Hypothermia kills about 600
Americans every year, half of whom are 65 or older,
according to the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention. Also, keeping the temperature at 65 or
higher, even when you are not at home, will help
prevent pipes from freezing.
Navigating through icy streets can be intimidating.
Wear comfortable shoes with anti-slip soles. If you
use a cane, replace the rubber tip before it is worn
smooth and becomes slippery on the wet ice. It may
be a good idea to have someone walk with you during
Make sure your smoke alarms are working. You should
also have working carbon monoxide alarms.
Falling in the home.
Winter means fewer hours of daylight. Older people
often need brighter lights in the home. You may also
have difficulty adjusting to changes in light, and
different levels of lighting may increase the risk
of slips and falls. Make sure there are no great
lighting contrasts from one room to another. Also,
use night lights, especially in the bathroom, and
don't have loose extension cords lying around—tape
them to the floor. Make sure rugs are not wrinkled
or torn in a way that can trip you as you walk.