Winter Survival Guide


Update: View a list of Winter Safety Initiatives in effect in Edmonton, including available shelters and number to call. (Tues. Jan. 14/2020)

For Canadian seniors, winter conditions can pose a number of safety risks, inside and outside the home. Too often, older adults end up in the emergency room with severe and life-threatening injuries as a a result of winter-related accidents. It’s vital that you take extra precautions to stay safe, and check in on your friends, neighbours and relatives to make sure they and their homes are well-equipped for winter conditions.

Here are some of the most common winter health hazards, and tips on how to prevent them. 

1) Falls & Fractures

For youth, it’s easy to brush off a fall; scrapes and bruises don’t tend to do a lot of harm, other than leave an eyesore on your skin. For seniors, falls are one of the leading causes of injury. Common fall-related injuries can include hip and wrist fractures, head trauma and major lacerations. Here are seven ways you can help avoid falls from happening to you this winter:

1. Proper Footwear

The Canada Safety Council suggests seniors look for the following features in footwear:

  • Well-insulated and waterproof
  • Wide, low heels
  • Light in weight
  • Good traction

2. Salt and Clear All Walkways

At Shepherd’s Care Foundation, our maintenance team looks after this, but if you have senior neighbours living nearby, offer to shovel and salt their driveways or walkways. If you yourself are physically unable to winterize your path, ask a friend or family member, or consider a snow removal service.

Hack: Cat litter and sand are just as effective as road salt. 

3. Walk with a Friend

There is safety in numbers!

4. Have Contact Information on Hand

Always have your emergency contact information, and  list of medications and allergies on hand in case you become disoriented ot unconscious and require medical attention. A medical alert bracelet is a great option that could help save your live by preventing hospital staff from administering a drug that would trigger an allergic reaction. 

5. Maintain Good Bone Health

Brittle bones and winter walking conditions can be a bad - even deadly - combination for seniors.  Maintain a healthy diet rich in calcium (think broccoli, cheese and milk), and if needed, take supplements of calcium, Vitamin D, or whatever your doctor has recommended. 

6. Stay Active Year-Round

Strong muscles will help maintain your balance on walking surfaces, including ice and snow. If you don’t feel safe or physically well enough to go for a brisk walk, swimming or water aerobics are popular options for seniors, as it’s gentle on the joints while building strength, endurance, and joint flexibility. Most fitness centres also offer classes geared toward seniors throughout the year. 

7. Take Your Time

Even if it’s tempting to keep up with the hustle and bustle, it is important that you take it slow while you are out walking and driving. Most stumbles occur from tripping over an unforeseen object, so keep your eyes open for any obstacles in your path. 

2) Hypothermia

Hypothermia occurs when the body can no longer produce more heat than it is losing. Seniors are most at risk because the older you are, the more difficult it can be to differentiate a drop in body heat, as most seniors tend to produce less body heat than young people. Hypothermia is the most common ailment that comes with prolonged exposure to the winter elements, and  can strike even when you are indoors.  Every winter, thousands of seniors end up in the hospital because they can’t afford adequate heating or aren’t able to get basic repairs done.  Don’t make this fatal mistake. 

Initial Signs (Mild Hypothermia)

  • Bouts of shivering
  • Grogginess and muddled thinking
  • Breathing and pulse are normal

Danger Signs (Moderate Hypothermia)

  • Violent shivering or shivering stops
  • Inability to think and pay attention
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Slow, weak pulse

Signs of Severe Hypothermia

  • Shivering has stopped
  • Unconsciousness 
  • Little or no breathing
  • Weak, irregular, or no pulse

6 Safety Precautions Against Hypothermia

1. Wear a Warm Hat

2. Dress in layers. Then add another layer. 

3. Stay  Inside

4. Stay Dry

5. Protect Your Feet and Hands

6. Throw a Warm Blanket in the Car

3) Frost Bite

Seniors, especially those with diabetes, are at an increased risk of frostbite. Depending on the degree, frostbite can cause irreparable damage to your skin. Following the above precautions against hypothermia can also help prevent frostbite, but if you or a friend are experiencing frostbite, here’s what to do, and what to  avoid.

The Dos & Don’ts of Treating Frost Bites:

Dos:

  • Move to a warmer place
  • Wrap the affected areas in sterile dressings separately (if immediate medical help is available)
  • Soak the affected areas in warm (never hot) water - or repeatedly apply warm cloths (if immediate care in not available)
  • Move thawed areas as little as possible
  • Warm drinks to replace lost fluids

Don’ts:

  • Do not thaw out a frostbitten area if it cannot be kept thawed
  • Do not use direct dry heat
  • Do not rub or massage the affected area
  • Do not disturb blisters on frostbitten skin
  • Do not smoke or drink alcoholic beverages during recovery

4) Winter Blues

Do you feel lethargic, unmotivated and depressed during the winter months? Ever year, thousands of Canadian seniors report feeling down in the winter. The combination of being stuck indoors, loneliness and not enough sunlight are all common factors that can trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). 

Some symptoms of SAD include:

  • Feeling depressed
  •  Loss of energy
  • Weight gain
  • Oversleeping
  • Anxiety
  • Heavy ’leaden’ feeling in the arms or legs
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed

It’s normal to have some days when you feel down, but if you find yourself with any of the symptoms listed above, make sure you speak to your nurse or doctor, and surround yourself with loved ones - even if you don’t feel up to visiting.  If family members and friends are unavailable to help or live out of town, don’t be afraid to reach out to a neighbour, in-home care provider, or other medical professional.

Source:  Canadian Safe-Step Walk-In Tub Co., How Canadian Seniors can Stay Safe This Winter