What risks do older people face in the winter?

Gracewell  |  December 22, 2016
Older adults in particular face unique risks during the winter months.
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Winter weather can exacerbate certain ailments common in older adults and creates new hazards.

Age UK reported that older adults in the British Isles face elevated risks in the winter compared to other European countries. Aging homes with minimal insulation and a lack of awareness may be to blame. As such the elderly and their families should be proactive about the health perils that come with winter.

Snow, ice and rain
Winter weather comes with its own set of hazards. Black ice can be a very serious concern, as slippery ice can lead to falls. Shoveling snow can also be dangerous for older adults because it is so physically demanding. The colder temperatures also have a negative effect on the body's immune system and other functions. This is why winter can be especially threatening. 

Falling ill
The cold compromises the body's ability to stay healthy, and it also forces people to stay indoors together. This aids the spread of germs and makes falling ill more likely. According to the National Health Service, there are a number of problems that are more frequent in winter. This includes influenza, norovirus and the common cold, as well as other issues such as cold sores and dry skin. Eating well and finding ways to stay active are important for boosting the immune system, especially for older adults.

Increased arthritis pain
Many people report feeling increased stiffness and joint pain in especially cold weather. Scientific evidence has found that changes in pressure and temperature may be to blame. This can reduce dexterity and cause greater discomfort. Light exercise, anti-inflammatory foods and staying warm are all essential steps to reduce the negative affects of arthritis.

Heart problems
Another serious concern tied to winter weather is the increase in cardiovascular problems such as heart attack or stroke. Colder temperatures force the heart to work harder to keep body heat stable and maintain the right blood pressure. Overall, this creates extra stress on the heart. The NHS reported that older adults should always wear the right clothing to stay warm and also use items such as an electric blanket or hot water bottle. Home thermostats should be kept at 18 C or warmer.

Family members should help older loved ones clear away snow after a storm. Cold air constricts the blood and reduced oxygen flow, and even light shoveling or pushing a snow blower can be enough to create an elevated risk for heart attack or stroke. This is especially important in the northern parts of the U.K.

Loneliness
Cold weather can inhibit travel and make it harder to stay socially active. Older adults in particular may be limited in what they can do throughout the winter. Families should be proactive about scheduling activities and visits to reduce feelings of loneliness or restlessness. Be sure to select the right clothing to protect against the cold and select an outing that is active and exciting.