April 29, 2020 —Whether you love cozying up by the fire or can’t wait until spring, it’s important for everyone to exercise caution in the winter. Today, we’re rounding up some common health risks associated with winter weather, as well as providing tips to keep you safe all season long.
6 Winter Health Risks — and How to Avoid Them
Flu season begins in October, usually peaks in January and can last until March. In addition to the flu, cases of pneumonia also increase in the winter. Both of these relatively common short-term illnesses can be deadly if not treated properly — in fact, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) lists influenza/pneumonia as the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.
To avoid falling ill this winter, take care of yourself by getting plenty of rest, eating healthy foods and getting the flu vaccine. Savleen says one of the top ways to limit the spread of disease is properly washing your hands. “Wash your hands often and effectively by scrubbing with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds,” she says. “Then dry with a paper towel. You can carry hand sanitizer as a back-up.”
The Winter Blues
Your mental health in the winter is just as important as your physical health. “Seasonal Affective Disorder brought on by darker winter months can leave older adults with feelings of sadness and mild depression,” Savleen says. Luckily, being aware that this could be a struggle can allow you to take action. Prioritizing proper nutrition and exercise, alongside making time to engage with friends and stimulate your mind, can help alleviate symptoms and get you through the darker days. Some people also find that regular exposure to bright light can help improve their moods.
According to the CDC, one out of every four adults over the age of 65 fall every year. Even scarier, one out of every five falls causes a serious injury. “It’s easy to slip and fall in the winter, especially in icy and snowy conditions,” Savleen says. Luckily there are a few precautions you can take to reduce your fall risk.
First and foremost, make sure all walkways are clear before walking — and be especially cautious on wet walkways or stairs that may have iced over. Wearing proper non-skid footwear is also important for outdoor safety. Within your home, be vigilant about removing tripping hazards like loose rugs and cords, as well as making sure to turn on adequate lighting when you’re moving around at night.
“Home fires are one of the most common causes of winter fatalities among older adults,” Savleen says. This is most often due to improper use of space heaters. If you do use a space heater to warm your home, make sure to position it at least three feet away from anything that might catch fire, like curtains, bedding or furniture. And of course, double check the batteries in your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors so you can be alerted to any danger immediately.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Speaking of carbon monoxide, the increased use of fireplaces and other natural gas heating sources can increase your risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. If these heat sources aren’t properly ventilated and cleaned, they can leak dangerous amounts of this scentless, deadly gas — that’s why it’s so important to make sure you have carbon monoxide detectors strategically placed around your home.
If you begin to feel weak, dizzy, nauseated or confused, or if you begin vomiting and experiencing blurred vision, get to fresh air immediately and seek medical attention.
Hypothermia occurs when your body temperature drops to a dangerous level. According to Kendal at Lexington’s Director of Rehab, Dr. Savleen Juneja, “Older adults are at an increased risk of hypothermia due to changes that happen to your body with aging.” Warning signs of hypothermia include pale, ashen and cold skin, being overly tired or confused, weakness, issues walking, and slowed breathing or heart rate.
The number one way to avoid the risk of hypothermia is to stay indoors and avoid being outside in the cold for long periods of time. If you do need to be outdoors, make sure you dress appropriately and stay dry, because wet clothing chills the body faster. If you think you or someone else is developing hypothermia, call 9-1-1 immediately.
By acknowledging these winter health risks and using these tips, you can get through the colder months safely. Planning ahead and preparing for seasonal hazards is the best way to ensure you stay healthy all the way until spring. Bundle up!