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Winter Weather and Senior Safety

Winter weather is here, bringing with it a wide array of challenges and safety considerations for seniors. Snow and cold weather are nothing new if you’ve lived in New England a long time, but there are still many ways to prepare for the season.

This year, Massachusetts is forecasted to experience a warmer-than-average winter season, but that doesn’t mean we won’t have our share of snow days and frigid temperatures. In fact, despite the slightly above-average temperatures, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts more snowfall than usual.

Regardless of current predictions for winter, older adults face a different set of hazards when it comes to cold weather. Here are a few season-specific risks to watch out for—and ways to keep yourself or your loved ones safe and healthy.

Catching the Flu Can Have Serious Consequences

Adults over 65 face a higher risk of complications from the flu, especially when other medical conditions are present. Common issues like heart disease, diabetes and asthma leave older adults more vulnerable to severe effects from the flu that may require hospitalizations. The flu can last up to two weeks, most commonly leading to complications like dehydration. This virus can also make seniors more susceptible to pneumonia, bronchitis and even heart failure.

Our Tip: The flu is easily avoided with an annual vaccine. Most doctor’s offices start offering the shot at the end of the summer, long before peak flu season in December and January. While the flu shot isn’t a guaranteed way to prevent all strains of the flu, it is a widely available and highly effective way to avoid the most common flu viruses going around.

Feelings of Isolation Can Affect Overall Health

Many people choose to live alone in their later years to hold on to independence and autonomy—aging in place is often preferred. But for those living alone, the risk of isolation can be serious, especially in winter when cold weather and shorter days make it harder to leave the house. Loneliness can have serious consequences on senior well-being, including increased fall risk, higher chances of re-hospitalization after injury or illness and a shorter lifespan overall.

Our Tip: There are a few ways to combat isolation this time of year. If getting to and from regular activities is an issue, there are alternative transportation options that offer door-to-door pickup and drop-off. For trouble with maintaining a social network, consider an adult day program at a nearby senior center—this is also a great option for those concerned about personal safety. A third option is using technology to stay in touch with friends and family. Emails, text messages and social media are great ways to stay in touch between scheduled phone calls or video chats.

Lack of Vitamin D has Harmful Side Effects

While a lack of vitamin D can happen in any season, most people are more prone to a deficiency during winter because of a lack of sun exposure. Most vitamin D is absorbed through the skin when we spend time outside, which is why winter can be more problematic than other seasons. Vitamin D is crucial for muscle strength, bone health and fighting infections—without it, seniors are at a greater risk of developing bone disorders and experiencing limited mobility. Older adults may also face a higher fall risk and increased likelihood of bone fracture.

Our Tip: Taking vitamin D supplements and adding more fortified foods to your diet can prevent a deficiency if spending time outside isn’t an option. It’s important to note, however, that other nutrients can help or hinder how your body processes vitamin D, and dosing should be handled with care. There are different forms of vitamin D available—some are prescription-only, and others can be found at your local drug store. Always consult with your doctor before adding a new supplement to your regimen.

Older adults often deal with a different set of challenges during the colder months, but can be managed or prevented entirely. Of course, this list doesn’t cover every possible risk, which is why it’s important for caregivers and seniors to stay alert and informed as the temperature drops. There are many resources in the community that can offer support and guidance as you prepare for the changing season.

At Wingate Residences at Haverhill, our residents enjoy excellent care throughout the year. Our continuum of care retirement community offers medical resources, social opportunities and dietary support to ensure our residents’ well-being. Connect with our team today by filling out this form or calling (978) 912-9250.

Wingate Residences at Haverhill