Winter Safety Tips for Seniors

Fireplace safety and other winter safety tips for seniors

Winter in the Midwest can be a challenge for anyone. But for older folks, cold temperatures and blustery weather can pose an even higher risk of injury. Check out these winter safety tips so you can stay safe and enjoy the season.

Stay warm—indoors and outdoors

As we age, our core body temperature often becomes lower and we have less muscle to build the heat back up. Health issues or side effects from certain medications can also cause some seniors to have problems keeping their body temperature steady. That’s why it’s important to bundle up, whether you’re inside or out!

Experts recommend setting your heat to around 70 degrees. (Tip: you can still save on heating costs by closing vents in rooms you don’t use and shutting the doors; blocking drafts by placing a rolled towel in front of doors; and using caulk or weather-stripping to seal up doors and windows). Keep an extra blanket, socks, and slippers handy. And consider adding a layer of long underwear under your pajamas and covering up with a cap at night.

Safeguard your home

If you’re using a space heater to keep your home nice and toasty, place it on a flat surface and give it plenty of room—at least three feet away from anything that could burn. Never leave a space heater unattended; turn it off when you leave the room or go to sleep.

If you use a wood-burning fireplace, make sure you have a sturdy screen or a glass front to catch flying sparks, and have a professional inspect your chimney at least once a year.

Finally, install smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors on every level of your home and, ideally, in each bedroom. Check the batteries in each detector once a month and change the batteries once a year.

Watch your step

Wet or slippery conditions can catch anyone off guard! But falls are more common among older adults and can lead to major injuries, such as hip and wrist fractures or head trauma. In fact, complications from such injuries are the leading cause of death among men and women over age 65.

That’s why it’s important to take it nice and easy when walking in winter weather. Stay on sidewalks or areas that have already been cleared and use a handrail if there’s one nearby. Wear shoes with non-skid soles. And if you use a cane, replace a worn tip with a sturdy rubber tip.

Shovel smart

A good reminder when you’re working to clear sidewalks or driveways: you don’t have to finish it all at once! Plan for a short five- or 10-minute warmup (walk or march in place) before heading outside, and take breaks any time you get tired. Choose a smaller shovel and push the snow, rather than lift or throw. Again, dress warmly and wear shoes or boots with good traction.

Drive safely

There are plenty of things you can do to make sure your vehicle is winter-ready. Inspect your tires and be sure the pressure is up and they have enough tread; check your antifreeze levels, as well as your wipers and wiper fluid; check belts and hoses for any cracks that might cause problems; be sure your battery is fully charged; and consider choosing oil that performs better in colder temperatures. Never warm up your vehicle in a garage or other enclosed areas.  

When the winter weather turns wicked, it’s best to avoid going out in the storm. If you absolutely must leave home, consider other options: public transportation, a taxi, or asking family, friends, or neighbors for a ride.

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