January is often the coldest month for many states, and it isn’t uncommon for Minnesota temperatures to drop well below zero. Add in the dangerous wind-chill, and going outside can cause frostbite in just minutes. Older adults are more susceptible to the cold, so it’s important for them to take extra precautions to prevent frostbite, hypothermia, and other cold-related injuries.
That 10-degree temperature reading on the gauge might not mean a lot to a person in their twenties or thirties, but an older adult will need to be cautious. The aging processes happening in the bodies of older adults makes them more vulnerable to hypothermia and frostbite. Older adults should limit their time outdoors or stay inside when temperatures are harsh. The thermostat should be set to 65 degrees or higher, and older adults should dress in loose, warm layers. Several layers will be more effective at keeping individuals warm than a thick layer will. The same rule applies when going outside: opt for mittens (rather than gloves), a hat, boots, and a scarf to block bone-chilling wind. Frosbite most often occurs in extremities, so warm socks, mittens, and hats are key to prevent frostbite on toes, fingers, and ears. If clothing gets wet, individuals should immediately change into dry clothes to prevent a wet and quickly chilling body. If frostbite or hypothermia is suspected (changes in breathing, heart rate, or skin color; weakness; confusion; waxy skin), medical attention should be sought out immediately.
Extra precautions should also be taken when shoveling. The strenuous activity can have an impact on the heart, especially because the body (particularly the heart) must work overtime to stay warm. Shoveling or walking on slippery sidewalks also makes individuals more prone to falling. Older adults with osteoporosis or balance issues should be especially careful to avoid falls. Sidewalks should be cleared and salted, and older adults should wear non-skid boots and use a cane or walker if needed.
Understanding cold weather risks is key to staying safe in the winter, so brush up on safety tips and share them with your loved ones!