Senior's Guide to Avoiding Winter Health Risks

Winter can be a wonderful time of year for seniors and their families, gathering for the holidays with the sun glistening on ice and snow. Yet, it can also pose some extra health challenges, especially for seniors.

If we're a senior or caring for one, we need to know how to protect ourselves and those we love during the colder months. Study these tips before winter arrives or even after it does.

Protect Our Hearts

1. Raise our awareness. Shoveling snow isn't the only winter hazard, but it may be the most obvious. Keep in mind that our heart is working harder all winter long to keep our body warm, so blood pressure and the risk of heart attacks increase.

2. Shovel safely. When we do shovel, take it easy. Go indoors for a break about every 10 or 15 minutes, and check our pulse until it returns back to normal. Stay away from caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco because they'll add to the strain on our hearts.

3. Watch our diet. Holiday parties and sitting around indoors can lead to weight gain and, for most of us, it does. For the sake of our hearts and our waistline, choose nutritious foods and measure your portions.

4. Review our medications. If we're taking prescriptions for our heart or any chronic conditions, ensure we have an adequate supply. We don’t want a blizzard or holiday closing to catch us by surprise.

Limit Our Exposure

1. Stay Warm.  Seniors are especially sensitive to falling temperatures, which can increase the risk of lung spasms as well as heart attacks. If possible, stay inside on the coldest days or bundle up, including covering our face with a scarf or ski mask.

2. Prevent hypothermia. Hypothermia occurs when body temperature drops to 95 degrees or less. Call 911 if you see warning signs such as cold skin, confusion, and sleepiness. We can reduce our risk by staying indoors and keeping the thermostat at 65 degrees or higher.

3. Treat frostbite. Frostbite can spread to our bones unless treated promptly, so cover up when we're outside. If our skin becomes white or numb, soak the area in warm water and get medical help immediately.

4. Check our heaters. If we use space heaters, keep them at least 3 feet away from anything flammable. Double-check our smoke and carbon monoxide detectors too.

Other Suggestions for Avoiding Winter Health Risks

1. Avoid slips and falls. Watch out for icy sidewalks and streets. Wear sensible shoes and take small steps.

2. Get our flu shot. Most medical experts recommend flu shots for anyone over 65, with very few exceptions. Early immunization is more effective, but a later shot may still help us stay well or lessen our symptoms.

3. Shine a light. Shorter daylight hours can affect our sleep and aggravate symptoms of depression and dementia. Try to get some sunlight in the morning by taking a walk or just sitting by a window.

4. Exercise regularly. Staying fit can help you manage many chronic conditions that often become more intense in winter. In addition to keeping our heart healthy and watching our weight, we may be able to reduce joint pain associated with arthritis.

5. Socialize more. Feeling isolated could be as unhealthy as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to one major study. If heavy snowfalls and freezing temperatures are keeping us inside, stay connected with regular phone calls or see if there is anyone who can visit us occasionally.

6. Talk with our doctor. Our individual risks may vary depending on factors such as the state of our health and the medications we take. Discuss any questions we have with our doctor. Start preparing now for a safe and comfortable winter season. Taking the appropriate precautions can help seniors to stay warm and happy until spring returns.

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