While winter’s cold, snowy and icy weather can be difficult to deal with, one set of the population has some special concerns.
Oklahoma’s older citizens should keep safety in mind, said Jan Johnston, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension adulthood and aging specialist.
“During extreme winter weather, older adults should be mindful of particular safety concerns, including falling, hypothermia and frostbite before venturing outside the home,” 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 on which to drive 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 about in the winter conditions.
If you absolutely must get out, keep in mind that not only the roads but sidewalks and steps can be slick and hazardous. Be sure to use extreme caution. Wear boots with nonskid soles. Weatherize any assistive devices, such as walkers. Ask your neighbor to shovel your driveway, sidewalks, and front steps. Spring ice-melting crystals on areas on which you walk to help give better traction and avoid falls.
“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. Be aware of hypothermia warning signs that 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.
It is a good idea to be sure smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are in proper working order. Also, have your fireplace and stood stove chimney cleaned and inspected annually. Learn simple maintenance tops to keep them in tip-top shape.
“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.”