By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
While the cold, snowy and icy weather can be difficult to deal with, the senior population has some special concerns during the Oklahoma winter season.
“With the opportunity for more bad weather to come, Oklahoma’s older citizens should keep safety in mind,” said Jan Johnston, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension adulthood and aging specialist.
“Before venturing outside, during extreme winter weather, older adults should be mindful of particular safety concerns, including falling, hypothermia and frostbite,” Johnston said.
“Many also have medical conditions that require active treatment and will need to work with their doctors to ensure no lapse in medication, for example. Simply getting back and forth to the doctor can be dangerous in winter weather.”
Older Oklahomans who find the roads too treacherous for them to drive on, may find themselves running low on medicine, groceries and other supplies. In the event this happens, enlist the help of family or neighbors who are more able to get out and navigate the winter conditions.
For those that must get out, it is important to keep in mind that not only the roads, but also sidewalks and steps can be slick and hazardous. Be sure to use extreme caution.
Wear boots with nonskid soles, gloves and proper outerwear. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half of hypothermia-related deaths were of people over the age of 65.
Weatherize any assistive devices, such as walkers. Ask your neighbor to shovel your driveway, sidewalks and front steps. Spread ice-melting crystals on areas on walkways to help give better traction and avoid falls.
According to a study by Home Instead Senior Care, nearly half of all senior hospitalizations (49 percent) can be avoided with proper prevention.
Making sure your car is in good running order so you are not stranded in the winter conditions is important. Checking your cars oil, tires, battery and wipers can make a big difference on winter roads.
“Individuals who have health complications such as a heart condition, osteoporosis or trouble with balance may need to hire someone to clear driveways and sidewalks if a neighbor or family member isn’t available,” Johnston said.
Extremely cold temperatures increase the chances of hypothermia and frostbite. Hypothermia warning sign include shivering; cold, pale or ashy skin; feeling tired, confused or sleepy; weakness; and slowed breathing or heart rate. Frostbite warning signs include discolored skin or the skin feeling waxy or numb.
“Be sure to seek medical attention immediately if you or a loved one experiences any of these symptoms,” she said.
Keeping warm inside the home can be hazardous, too. Fireplaces, along with wood and gas stoves, must be properly ventilated. This will prevent carbon monoxide, a deadly gas that cannot be seen or smelled, from building up within the home. Kerosene and electric heaters also can be potential fire hazards.
Make sure smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are in proper working order. Also, have fireplaces and wood stove chimneys cleaned and inspected annually. Learn simple maintenance tips to keep them in tip-top shape.
As many Oklahomans have already experienced, winter storms can lead to power outages. Make sure to have easy access to flashlights and a battery-powered radio. Stockpile warm blankets. Wear several layers of clothing, including a hat.
“If you have an older neighbor or family member, check on them regularly through the winter, especially if there’s a winter storm going on,” Johnston said.
“Make sure they have enough food and a good supply of any medications. Winter weather can be very hazardous and challenging for older adults. Let’s do whatever we can to help them weather the storm.”
The most important tip to keep in mind during the colder months is to stay connected to others.
To learn more, check out this winter weather checklist from the CDC.