Here are 5 most common winter hazards among seniors:
1) Hypothermia: Hypothermia refers to a drop in body temperature below 95 degrees (35 degree C) and a condition where the body cannot produce enough energy to stay warm . While Hypothermia can happen to anyone, the elderly are at a higher risk because their bodies often cannot adjust to changes in temperature quickly .Symptoms include shivering, cold skin that is pale or ashy, lack of co-ordination, mental confusion, slowed reactions, weakness and sleepiness.
2) Painful joints: Many seniors experience an increase in joint pain during winters. A growing body of research validates that every 10 degree drop in temperature corresponds with an increase in discomfort for people suffering form joint pain. According to a research in the Cleveland Clinic, when the barometric pressure drops, tissues in joints can swell, pushing them against muscles and nerves in the area and causing pain.
3) Flu and cold: Winter brings along with it the cold and flu season which can have greater and potentially dangerous implications for seniors. A Welsh study suggests that cold temperatures can actually lead to flu by limiting the supply of infection–fighting WBC cells in the nasal passage. Symptoms can include blocked or runny nose, dry, scratchy sore throat, sneezing along with watery eyes, fever and feeling extremely tired. Seniors should take proper prevention against the flu as they are more prone to developing it along with related complications.
4) Seasonal Affective Disorder and Sundowning: Winters makes it more difficult for seniors to go out and have social contact with others which in many cases make them prone to SAD and isolation. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression which cycles with the seasons. It can occur during any time of the year, but it typically hits most people in the winter. As the weather gradually gets colder and the days shorter, people affected by the winter-induced form of SAD will begin to feel the symptoms of depression, including; a loss of energy, an increased or decreased appetite and an enhanced feeling of lethargy and tiredness.. In case of seniors with any form of Dementia, there might be an increase in Sun downing syndrome leading to increased memory loss, confusion, agitation during the evening hours .The low light during winters can disrupt their circadian rhythm leading to Sundowning syndrome.
5) Heart attack: Heart attacks and high blood pressure are more common among Seniors in winter. Cold temperatures can cause a rise in the blood pressure along with increasing levels of proteins that raise the risk of blood clots. The heart has to work harder to maintain the body heat due to which the arteries tighten and restricts blood flow and reduces oxygen supply to the heart. The warning signs include chest pain, shortness of breath, sudden fatigue or dizziness, sweating, nausea and irregular heartbeat.
We’ve put together a list of things seniors can do to stay safe from winter hazards:
1) Keep your body warm: It is extremely important to keep the core temperature high by wearing additional layers of clothes. Woollen socks, gloves, hat is necessary to protect the joints from the cold temperature. Hypothermia can even occur indoors if the room is not warm enough. Proper heating arrangements should be installed as winter sets in. Seniors with respiratory conditions should use a face mask while going out to prevent spasms.
2) Vitamin D: Vitamin D is a vital nutrient that has been linked to bone health, cancer prevention, incontinence prevention, diabetes prevention and stabilizing blood pressure. The best source of vitamin D is through skin being exposed to sunlight. Insufficient exposure to sunlight during winters contributes to a number of winter hazards like increasing joint pains, high BP, SAD etc. Seniors should include foods fortified with vitamin D in their diet to help reduce or prevent a deficit. Certain varieties of milk, yogurt and juice all contain extra doses of the vitamin. Supplements prescribed by the doctor can be consumed but seniors should be sure that they are taking the right form of vitamin D and in appropriate amounts to reap the benefits.
3) Preventive vaccination: Cold and flu can manifest into a serious health risk in seniors. Prevention is especially important for keeping seniors healthy during the winter. The most significant prevention is to get vaccinated. Vaccination for flu is easily available in doctor’s offices and even some community pharmacies. This type of vaccine was specifically designed for senior citizens as they are more prone to illness due to existing health conditions or weakened immune systems. The vaccine includes antibodies which give an extra protection to the seniors in fighting infections.
4) Physical activity: With the onset of winters, seniors tend to withdraw into their cocoons. A sedentary lifestyle can cause weight gain leading to an increase in joint pain and other related complications. Physical exercise is very important to keep the joints lubricated and moving. A comprehensive exercise program including strength training, core exercises, stretching, low impact aerobics etc. will help them in staying strong, energetic and healthy .
5) Light therapy: Seasonal depression being a common hazard among seniors during winters, it is very important to get exposed to sufficient sunlight. Light therapy is an alternative to natural sunlight. Light therapy utilizes a piece of equipment called a ‘light box” which has a fluorescent lamp that gives off light similar to natural sunlight. Usually a senior is asked to sit in front of the box for 30 to 45 minutes a day, mostly in the morning, to make up for the lack of sunlight that they experience during the winter. Some studies have shown that light therapy has the potential to be as effective as antidepressant medication when it comes to treating the seasonal depression.
6) Diet: Metabolism of the body is high during winters as the body needs to generate heat to sustain the cold climate. Hence, food intake increases during winters leading to gastrointestinal problems like indigestion and heart burns. Special care of diet is very important during winters to avoid such problems. An ideal winter diet should be rich in seasonal fruits and green leafy vegetables. Fat intake like ghee, butter should be reduced as it might add on to the cholesterol level leading to an increase in BP as physical activity is limited during winters. Dry fruits like almonds, walnut, raisin should be included in their diet as it helps in maintaining the body temperature.
We would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on how you or your parent keep winter hazards at bay.