Top Winter Safety Tips for Aging Adults
While many of us enjoy the comfortable temperatures of fall, there is no stopping the inevitable arrival of winter. With winter comes snow, and where there is snow, you can guarantee there is ice. If you’ve lived through a midwestern or northeastern winter, you’re already aware of the many dangers that Jack Frost and his winter antics present each year. From slippery roads and ice-covered sidewalks, from power outages to winter storms, this time of year puts people of all ages at high risk for car accidents, falls, and house fires.
For seniors, however, these risks increase exponentially. This population is already prone to falls and other accidents, which means that wintertime can be an especially scary few months.
But this doesn't have to be the case. In this article, I've gathered information from some of my favorite resources for top winter safety tips for seniors. These tips cover auto safety, homes safety, and fall prevention.
Winter Auto Safety
For those living in a cold climate, now is the time to winterize your vehicle. To ensure your car is prepared for winter driving, take it to a reliable mechanic and have them check these specific items:
1. Car Battery
Make sure your car battery is fully charged. You can do this with a voltmeter and by following these steps. Or, you can take your car to a mechanic and they can check it for you.
2. Check Your Oil
I recommend going to a professional or having a knowledgeable family member change your oil, especially if your car is not covered in a garage. Ask your mechanic about switching to a winter specific, thinner grade of engine oil for better performance in colder temperatures.
3. How Are Your Anti-Freeze Levels?
Have your mechanic check your radiator’s anti-freeze levels.
4. Fan Belts Working?
Inspect all belts and hoses for signs of cracking or leakage. I recommend having your mechanic take a look.
5. Are Your Wipers Safe?
Inspect your windshield wipers for breakage or cracking. When you turn them on, do they leave streaks? If so, it’s time to change them! You may even want to consider buying winter weather wipers that are more durable and designed for removing snow and ice. Also check your wiper fluid to be sure you’ll get full visibility whenever you need it.
6. Check Your Tires
Check the tire air pressure and treads. Another investment to consider is winter tires. Even the toughest SUV could be at risk on an icy road with the wrong tires.
Getting in and out of a truck or an SUV is hard enough, but during the wintertime, ice can build up on the handles and doors of the car, presenting a very real danger. Look for tools like a handy bar that allow for easier movement in and out of the vehicle.
Home Heating Safety
Although it’s warmer in the summer, most home fires happen during the winter months than any other time of year. This is due to increased use of home heating devices such as fireplaces and space heaters. Seniors aged 65 and older are three times more likely to die or be injured in a house fire than other age groups. Not only do home heating devices present more opportunities for fires, but they also can produce an abundance of deadly carbon monoxide gas. Here are some important home heating safety tips to remember:
1. Check Your Chimney and Fireplace for Hazards
If you or your loved one uses a wood-burning fireplace, have the chimney flue pipe checked each year. Also, be sure that there is a screen or glass in front of the fireplace to catch any wild sparks or moving logs. Keep flammable objects such as stockings and curtains away from the fireplace when in use.
2. Get the Proper Fire Extinguisher
Invest in an ABC multipurpose fire extinguisher for your home and read the manual so you and your loved ones know how to use it.
3. Check on Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Check all smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and make sure all batteries have been replaced. Install additional detectors if you find areas without them.
3. Remember Space Heater Safety!
If you’re using a space heater remember that space heaters need space. Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from the heater, and if you’re looking to by a new space heater get one that automatically shuts off if the heater falls over.
Winter Fall Prevention
The chances of falling increase dramatically as the ice builds in the wintertime. Salting a sidewalk can only do so much to improve safety for an aging adult that struggles with mobility. Share these simple fall prevention tips with your aging loved ones:
1. Choose the right footwear.
Be aware of the type of boots or shoes you wear as you brave the cold and snow. Look for soles with the greatest traction and tread that will really grip the ground.
2. Have your eyes checked.
Poor vision can make it harder to get around safely, especially when it’s snowing.
3. Watch Your Step!
Walk consciously and cautiously. Be alert to the possibility that you could easily slip on an unseen patch of ice.
4. Walk like a penguin.
It sounds silly, but taking short, shuffling steps and walking as flatfooted as possible can help you avoid a slippery situation.
5. Keep your hands free.
This is extremely important. Wear gloves to keep your hands warm, but keep them out of your pockets to help you balance and if need be, catch yourself if you fall. Avoid carrying heavy loads to and from the car that could cause you to lose your balance.
Prepare for Power Outages
More than any time of year, when the power goes out during a winter storm, it becomes a matter of health and safety. Frigid temperatures can potentially lead to hypothermia, frostbite, or even death. The CDC has put together a helpful list of how to prepare for winter storms that cause power outages, they suggest putting together an emergency kit that contains:
- First aid kit
- Bottles of water
- Battery powered radio
- Canned food
- Candles and matches
- Also, consider purchasing an emergency generator if you live in a climate that is particularly susceptible to winter storms and power outages—it can be a life saver.
A Few Additional Tips
1. Fight off those winter blues.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is common for seniors, especially those living alone. Think of ways to make the home brighter like adding additional lighting around the house.
2. Get more vitamin D.
The days are shorter than ever, which is why it's important to soak up as much sunlight as you can each day. Staying indoors all day can be tough on anyone, so make a point to open your curtains every morning and let the sunshine in!
3. Be mindful of winter health risks.
Tis the season for winter bugs, colds, and the flu. Seniors aged 65+ are especially at risk of contracting influenza, which is why the CDC and most doctors recommend aging adults get a flu shot every winter. Luckily, most pharmacies offer them for free now!
Winter may not be everyone’s favorite season, but the reality is that it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Although we may not be able to control the weather, we can most certainly be sure that our aging loved ones are prepared to handle it safely.