Strolling on a walk while fluffy snowflakes fall can be one of winter’s most serene and calming little pleasures. But when snow combines with the other elements of ice and wind to form a wintry mix, what was a pleasant moment in nature can quickly turn into a slippery, treacherous outing.
Though roads and sidewalks require extra-careful navigation during winter months, it’s important that able seniors are still able to get around and stay active. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention findings on health-related quality of life, older adults suffer the most from “poor physical health and activity limitations.”1 Thankfully, there are resources available to help combat the wintry weather and keep seniors mobile despite the weather.
Layers and Bundles
First and foremost, winter weather means cold temperatures, and it’s imperative that seniors have the proper attire to keep them toasty – both inside and while out and about. Illnesses like hypertension and diabetes, as well as the natural aging process that decreases blood circulation and thins the fat layers under the skin2, can cause shivers and chills in the elderly, and hypothermia is a serious concern for seniors. If they are heading out for appointments or social calls, make sure seniors are covered from head to toe—hats, gloves, boots, winter coat, scarves. Layering underneath with cardigans, an extra pair of sock, long underwear, adds extra insulation, and can be shed relatively easily if it gets too warm. Layering also helps indoors, especially if it’s hard for seniors to move from one room to another. Drafts or incoming sun through a window can dramatically change the temperature of a room through the day, so layering allows seniors to adjust their temperature with that of the room.
Maneuvering through streets of cities and towns that may not have been properly cleared can pose a challenge for older drivers. Avoid the hassle of digging cars out of snow banks or risking slick, icy roads, and check out community transportation options. Some offer free or discounted rides. Montgomery County, Maryland, for example, offers the Ride On program that incorporates a variety of transportation services (think Metrobus and Metrorail, special busses that are wheelchair accessible).3 The city of Alexandria, Virginia, offers group grocery shopping trips as well as Senior Taxi, that will take seniors to medical appointments, pharmacy pick-ups, and grocery shopping within the city limits for $2.00 each way.4 Make sure your senior has the most up-to-date information and schedules to take advantage of these and other programs in your area.
According to the National Council on Aging, an older adult is treated for a fall every 15 seconds. What’s more, falls account for the most common cause of elderly traumatic brain injuries.5 Many seniors use canes and walkers to assist their mobility and prevent them from becoming a fall statistic, and during the winter months, it’s imperative that their equipment be ready to handle the harsh conditions. Relatives, friends and home care workers should make sure to keep the feet of equipment as dry and clean as possible to prevent skidding and slipping, and make sure the rubber grips on the bottoms and on the handles aren’t ripped or torn. Cover metal equipment with padding or cloth—that won’t impinge on its function—to protect the equipment from the cold air.