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  • Writer's pictureKaren McPhail, RN, MSN

Planning Properly for the Many Challenges of Winter Weather

The DC Metro area has certainly been hit with a blast of harsh winter weather! Today's low of 5 degrees is a clear reminder that we need to be safe and prepared at all times for weather changes.

So what should one do to be properly prepared for winter weather challenges?

First, be proactive! Check the daily and 5 day forecasts, weather alerts, and show good judgment. If inclement weather is expected that could present a hazard for walking, driving, or being outside in general, reschedule appointments and other engagements for another time.

Make sure that prior to any major storms that you fill any prescriptions that are due, you stock in food items and non perishables, medical supplies, water, you make plans with private duty caregivers if used to ensure coverage, keep your cell phone charged and an extra battery charger for use if needed, have some battery powered candles, plug in automatic turn on night lights and flashlights with extra batteries on hand, and if you have an emergency generator you ensure that it is in working order in the event of a prolonged power outage. If you do not have a generator make plans if possible to stay with a friend, neighbor, or family member for warmth and support during storms. If you are using oxygen or other medical equipment that requires power you will especially need to do this if you do not have a generator. It is always best to have an emergency plan in place to cover all possible scenarios. Care managers can assist with this if needed.

Take control and prevent what you can! Winter-related injuries are a huge issue for older adults! Shoveling snow, walking outside, or driving in slippery conditions, can all lead to injuries, strains, fractures, respiratory, and heart related complications. To avoid a fall or other injury, stay inside and avoid driving on hazardous days. Take small steps when outdoors, wear boots or other warm footwear with a good tread, dress warmly, use a cane or walker, avoid steps or if necessary hold onto railings when going down them. Ensure that you have a snow removal service in place or a friend to assist if needed. Sand or salt paths or necessary walkways before venturing out. Avoid being out in the early am and after sundown as black ice and slippery areas can be difficult to see until too late!

Snow, sleet and rain are not the only issue outdoors however! Cold temperatures like we have seen today can be dangerous for all older adults! Those with chronic respiratory conditions are particularly vulnerable to the cold temperatures and winter air! Individuals with reactive airways are sensitive to cold air and changes between the warm and cold, which can then result in spasms in the lungs and respiratory difficulties. Cover your mouth and nose with a scarf when outdoors to shield and warm the cold air. Always, limit the amount of time spent outside in the cold winter months to avoid problems. In addition, avoid skin exposure to the cold. Wear a hat, gloves, warm coat, scarf, dress in layers. Most people are aware of heat loss through the head, however, the neck and face can lose heat also thus, putting seniors at risk for hypothermia.

The primary goal is to stay inside for snow, freezing rain, sleet, and extreme cold. Play it safe as the weather will eventually shift and you can resume your regular schedule, especially if you are mindful in taking precautions to avoid a life changing or limiting injury.

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