Snowbirds may be exposed to hot weather and excessive sun rays but at least they have an opportunity to seek shady areas, limit their time in the sun and turn on the air conditioning. However, seniors wintering in cold climates are often snowbound and forced to brave inclement weather conditions when they venture outdoors.
Slippery sidewalks, snow-strewn streets and frigid weather wreak havoc on the entire population but the senior population must take extra precautions to avoid fractures and respiratory problems.
Clothing gurus that specialize in outfitting senior citizens, say layering is the key to retaining heat. It’s important to keep hands, head and feet warm. With regard to outerwear, mittens that allow people to curl up fingers are preferable to gloves. Always wear a head covering that shields the earlobes and forehead. A scarf or mouth covering will protect lungs against cold air and it is a necessity for people with respiratory problems.
Seniors are particularly susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia. Fingers, toes, earlobes and the nose must be protected. Among the symptoms are numbness and a white cast to the skin in the affected areas. Scalding the area is ill-advised. Keep hydrated by drinking six to eight glasses of water a day. Avoid coffee because it tends to dehydrate.
Health professionals all agree, seniors who shovel snow are at a greater risk for heart attacks and back injuries. Although many septuagenarians may keep in shape and feel fit, they should be aware of the hazards associated with heavy-duty shoveling.
If the senior is in top shape and insists on doing the job instead of hiring someone, the key is to take it easy. Work slowly and take breaks. Keep in mind that shoveling combined with colder temperatures adds more strain to the heart. Every winter people succumb to heart attacks while shoveling snow.
Senior fashionistas may be tempted to trot outdoors wearing high heel boots but it’s hazardous and not worth the aesthetic effect. Make sure boots have good traction. Regardless of a person’s balance or boot traction, black ice is difficult to detect during the day and impossible to spot at night. Although it’s unreasonable to expect people never to venture outdoors in the evening, it makes good sense to postpone attending to chores that could be just as easily done during the day.
Cote St. Luc resident Kay Levine, 79, tripped on black ice when she went to retrieve a magazine from her car. “It could have waited until morning but I wanted to read it that evening. Instead, I ended up in ER and subsequently out of circulation for weeks.”
Irwin Collins, a spry 80-year-old Montrealer, suffered a similar fate. “I decided to get rid of my garbage and was about to place it in the garbage can when I slipped on the driveway and fractured my hip. I heard the crack and knew I was in trouble.” Despite his four-month ordeal following surgery and rehabilitation, Collins says he was fortunate. “It was pitch black except for a street light, and very cold. Luckily a neighbour in the duplex next door looked out her window and discovered me lying there. She called 911 and saved my life because I would have frozen to death out there.”
Avoid trekking far from home if the weather forecaster predicts heavy snowfall or freezing rain. If it’s necessary to go out, check with a neighbour or relative when you leave home on a snowy day. Tell them where you are heading and phone them if a problem arises. Make sure to tuck a cell phone in your purse or pocket in case an emergency arises. Seniors using a cane or walker are advised to check and see that the rubber tips are in top condition.
Symptoms of hypothermia are stumbling, drowsiness, slow or slurred speech, memory loss, disorientation and a sense of exhaustion.
On the interior home-front, seniors can also take precautions to ensure safety. Keep thermostat set at 68 degrees to prevent hypothermia and chills. Even inexpensive plastic sheeting over windows will prevent drafts. Make sure there is an escape route, in case of fire, from your home. Shovel back and front entrances to the dwelling. Put new batteries in your smoke detectors and check that they work. If it means climbing high step ladders to do the job, it pays to have someone come in and attend to it.
Seniors that are sedentary are apt to feel chilled on days when the wind blasts through the windows. Hence, it’s common to use an electric heater or wood burning stove or fireplace. Make sure it’s in a safe place and is very sturdy. Use a carbon monoxide detector. Remember, carbon monoxide is colourless and odourless, so you need detection devices. Always have a phone within easy reach.
Sometimes, inclement weather lasts a few days; therefore, play it safe and stock the pantry with nonperishable items. Have canned or prepared puddings, soups, juices, biscuits, bread sticks and other goods within easy reach. Even if the power fails, these goods never go bad. Candles, as well as fresh batteries and flashlights, will suffice if the lights go out. Similarly, extra blankets, socks and sweaters should be available for warmth.
Prepare a sheet with important phone numbers and stick it on the fridge door. Jot down the following contacts: a nearby CLSC, Public Security, Poison Control Centre, 911, a neighbour, a relative, a friend, physician and pharmacy. Prepare a second sheet and keep it in a wallet. Note the names and doses of all the medications, in case it’s necessary to vacate the premises.