We would hate to make a season so nice as winter sound all mean and scary. It is the only time of year when it’s socially acceptable to drink eggnog, after all. But with the bitter cold come many new health hazards to seniors, who must take certain precautions if they wish to remain safer from accidents and illness. These are the greatest threats the most wonderful time of the year poses to elders!
Three million seniors are treated in emergency rooms for fall injuries every year. Over 5% of all senior hospitalizations result from fall-related trauma! Fall injuries occur more frequently during the winter than any other season due to icy stoops and sidewalks, as well as the limited amount of daylight.
Seniors who wish to avoid falling should only schedule plans during daylight hours. They should also wear suitable winter boots or crampons, as well as hire a service that will keep all their outdoor walkways clear of snow and ice.
With advanced age comes a decline in your metabolic rate. In simpler terms, a senior’s body has a more difficult time maintaining the ideal temperature of 98.6 degrees. The biting cold of winter does not help this matter, as people 65 years and older are significantly more vulnerable to hypothermia (defined as a core body temperature below 95 degrees). Having certain other conditions like diabetes and arthritis make a senior even more vulnerable.
The symptoms of hypothermia are not limited to feeling cold. They also include confusion, drowsiness, memory loss, slurred speech and exhaustion. Avoiding hypothermia is as simple as staying warm – a trick no one reaches old age without learning – but anyone who becomes hypothermic would ideally receive immediate medical attention.
A senior’s declining metabolic rate also means their body becomes less efficient at heating extremities including the nose, ears, fingers and toes. If you feel numb in any of these extremities and they have turned white or grayish in color, then you may have suffered frostbite. Avoiding frostbite requires taking the same care as you would avoiding hypothermia. Bundle up, avoid lengthy adventures through the cold, and change any clothing that may have become damp at once!
Flu season overlaps with the months people spend the most time indoors: December through March. It is especially dangerous to seniors, as people 65 years and older account for more than half of flu-related hospitalizations in America. Limiting one’s exposure to large crowds reduces the chance of contracting the flu, as does regularly sterilizing frequently touched surfaces.
Common symptoms of the flu include fever, aching muscles, chills, sweats, shortness of breath and persistent coughing. Receiving antiviral medication within 48 hours of the onset of potential flu symptoms is paramount to avoiding pneumonia – an infection which kills over 40,000 Americans every year, the majority of whom are seniors.
People feel less thirsty than usual during the wintertime. This is unfortunate, as your body rapidly loses water in cold, dry air, especially if you are wearing heavy clothing and sweating. To make matters worse, seniors are at greater risk of becoming dehydrated than any people in any other age group.
It’s vital always to remember to drink water, even when you’re not thirsty. It is recommended that seniors drink at least 1.7 liters of fluid every 24 hours, and to stay alert to the common signs of dehydration which include dry mouth, unexplained fatigue, lightheadedness and dark-colored urine.
Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D is naturally produced by the body when it is exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D deficiency is understandably more common during so dark a season, and people become even more susceptible to the condition as they grow older. Seniors experiencing vitamin D deficiency commonly suffer from fatigue, back pain, depression, digestive issues and bone loss.
Fortunately, vitamin D is also available from many common foods. Red meat, egg yolks, oily fish such as salmon and sardines, liver, and fortified milk and juice are all good sources of vitamin D – as are dietary supplements containing the essential compound.
Also known as pruritus hiemalis, winter itch may occur when the skin becomes dehydrated by cold, dry air. The condition typically causes dry, red, scaly and of course itchy skin around the legs. People with sensitive skin are naturally quite vulnerable to winter itch, but seniors become more prone to winter itch as their skin becomes dryer and thinner with age.
You can prevent winter itch by applying moisture to any affected areas, sleeping in the same room as a humidifier, and limiting your exposure to the winter elements. Take care that astringent skin care products containing alcohol and witch hazel may only make the skin drier!
Cold weather doesn’t just jeopardize a senior’s feet by creating falling hazards. Feet that spend a lot of time bundled up in heavy socks are at significantly higher risk of developing fungal infections such as athlete’s foot. Chilblains, which is the painful and itchy inflammation of small blood vessels within skin on the hands and feet, commonly affects seniors as well.
If you are suffering from a foot or ankle condition – no matter your age – then the passionate podiatrists of TC Foot & Ankle Clinic are available to see you all year long. We welcome you to contact us today to schedule a visit at one of our convenient locations in Golden Valley and Woodbury, Minnesota!