Staying safe in cold weather
The cold temperatures and slippery conditions that accompany our Cleveland winters can create many dangers for senior adults. Taking precautions to stay safe in cold weather can help prevent weather-related accidents and health problems.
Hypothermia and frostbite can occur from overexposure, both indoors and out. To prevent this, the National Institute on Aging recommends dressing warmly. Indoors, wear thermal underwear, socks, slippers and a nightcap, and use plenty of blankets when sleeping. Outdoors, wear loose, layered clothing: a hat, scarf, gloves, thick socks, warm boots and a waterproof coat. Keep your face and neck covered.
Many people turn down their thermostats in the winter to save money. The institute recommends setting thermostats no lower than 68 degrees, to prevent hypothermia. You can save money on heating by closing off unused rooms (shut the heating vents and close the doors), keeping blinds and curtains closed, caulking window and door gaps, and installing storm windows and insulating film.
Dominion East Ohio’s Winter Crisis Program (800-282-0880) provides help for low-income seniors who are having trouble paying their heating bills and are threatened with disconnection.
House fires are also a concern in winter months. Carefully follow the safety manual for any portable heater. Make sure the heater has an automatic shut-off feature in case it tips over, and never leave it unattended. Make sure your fireplace has a screen to catch sparks, and have the flue checked annually. Use power strips instead of extension cords and turn them off when not in use. Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and type ABC fire extinguishers on every level of your home.
Outside, keep your sidewalk and driveway clear of snow and ice. Ask your doctor if you are physically able to shovel. If not, ask for help. Wear boots with good treads, walk slowly and watch where you step. Try not to carry anything in your arms.
Driving in snow and ice can be dangerous. Transportation services provide a safer alternative. The Cleveland Heights Office on Aging operates a van service that transports seniors to the doctor, pharmacy and grocer, and to the Senior Activity Center. Call 216-691-7194 for more information.
University Heights offers a limited number of subsidized rides for seniors and disabled residents through Senior Transportation Connection (STC). There is an application process and priority is given to medical appointments. Call 800-983-4782 or visit www.ridestc.org for more information.
Physical activity is important year-round. The Cleveland Heights Community Center enables resident seniors to use its walking track free of charge Tuesdays through Thursdays, from 1-2 p.m. It’s a great way to get out of the house, avoid isolation and stay healthy.
Older adults may be at risk for dehydration in winter because the air is drier, and aging diminishes one’s sense of thirst. Follow your doctor’s recommendations for fluid intake.
The likelihood of catching a cold or flu is greater during the winter. Keep healthy by washing your hands often. Flu shots are often provided at no cost to Medicare subscribers. Check with your doctor or pharmacy.
Seasonal depression is common at this time of year. It can be caused by decreased sunlight, increased isolation and holiday melancholy. The Cleveland Heights Office on Aging employs two social workers who provide help and resources to seniors facing these issues. Contact them at 216-691-7377.
Judith Eugene is a native of Cleveland Heights who provides classes and activities for senior adults and those with physical and mental challenges. She can be reached at 216-408-5578 or Judith@LovingHandsGroup.com.