With the area knee deep into winter, those older residents venturing out into the cold, snow and ice have a tougher task of getting around to the grocery store, senior center activities and visiting with friends and family.
At this time of the year, health care professionals say it is important for senior citizens to be protected from the cold temperatures.
Every year, many elderly people die from hypothermia and exposure because their bodies are less able to protect them from dangerously cold weather if they have to be outdoors.
Because snow and ice and other adverse weather conditions raise the risk of falls during the winter season, health care professionals believe it is important to wear appropriate footwear — comfortable shoes with anti-slip soles.
This will help secure footing on icy or snowy walks, stairs or driveways.
Seniors also should check where they regularly walk and be aware of any surfaces that may present a slip or fall risk.
Be sure rugs are flat and secure, especially since footwear in the winter tends to be a bit heavier and bulkier than in the warmer months.
“For seniors to stay safe in their homes, there’s a couple of practical things you can do to your home,” said Dr. Judith Black, medical director for senior markets at Highmark.
“One is getting rid of those throw rugs. Or, if you have throw rugs, make sure they are taped down. And the second is to make sure you have enough lighting. And it is particularly important for seniors to have good lighting in their bedroom, on the way to the bathroom or around the stairs.”
One of the things that seniors can do, said Black, is to make sure they stay active and participate in an exercise program. One of leading causes of problems for seniors during the winter months is falls.
Also, flu seasons are unpredictable and can be severe.
If he/she hasn’t done so already, it is not too late to call friends and family members to remind them to get a flu shot, Black said.
According to doctors, getting a flu shot can help prevent complications in older adults and anyone with asthma, diabetes, anemia and other heart and lung problems.
“It’s so important to protect yourself and to protect your loved ones by getting a flu shot and a pneumonia shot if you haven’t had one.” said Black.
“When seniors are thinking about going outdoors, it’s just like younger children going outdoors. It’s so important that you wear layers, making sure that you have boots and your gloves because seniors are more prone to hypothermia.”
Black said while it is difficult to assess what specific problems doctors are seeing from seniors this year, it’s always good to remind seniors to do what they can to avoid their risk of falls, exposure to cold temperatures, avoiding the flu and its complications such as pneumonia and worsening chronic conditions such as asthma or heart failure.
“Seniors should also know and recognize the signs of depression or ‘winter blues’ during the winter season,” she said.
Black also recommends getting a pneumococcal (pneumonia) shot.
Unlike the flu shot, which is different each year and is given before the start of the influenza season, the pneumococcal shot can be given at any time of the year.
The flu season has started early this year in our region, and the number of reported cases has increased, said Black.
“Since the flu season does not peak until January or February, it is not too late to get vaccinated,” she said.
Black added seniors can take advantage of the many pharmacies in the region that are able to give flu shots without making an appointment.
Health professionals also say seniors should not neglect diet and exercise during the winter months.
While they may not want to venture outside for a walk, health officials said it is important to stay active with light indoor exercises.