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The Older Adult’s Guide to Cold Weather

Article by Amy Ehrlich, M.D, Contributor for U.S. News & World Report

“Cold weather brings special risks for older adults. In the Division of Geriatrics at Montefiore Health System in the Bronx, New York, our team works to educate our patients and their families and caregivers about keeping safe in the cold weather.

The most frequent winter injuries we see are due to patients slipping and falling. Nationwide, the data show that the risk of hip fractures rises significantly in the winter because of falls on ice and snow. Unfortunately, I frequently see seniors who try to be careful by limiting their outdoor activities in the winter but then end up slipping on their front steps or when taking out the trash. To avoid this, we encourage all adults to wear boots with non-skid soles even on short trips outside and to be certain their walkway is clear and treated with sand or salt. If using a cane, it’s important to be certain that the rubber tip has been replaced before it has worn out. Also, some health professionals recommend using specialized tips for canes and walkers that are designed to provide extra traction on the ice. However, the safest plan is to avoid walking on slippery surfaces.

In general, falls are the most common cause for serious injury in older adults. Of community-dwelling adults over 65 years old, more than one-third fall every year. I encourage all older adults to discuss their risk of falls with their physician. In particular, anyone who has fallen, is worried about falling or feels unsteady should undergo a complete fall evaluation. Some of the actions you can take to prevent falls include: have your doctor or pharmacist review your medications; start an exercise program to improve balance and strength; have your eyes and feet checked; and finally, make your home safer. You can work with your health care team to address all of these key areas of fall prevention. In the winter, it’s critical to avoid slipping on ice and snow. So use caution when going outside: Wear boots with non-skid soles, be certain that your path is well-lit and make sure there are handrails on all staircases.”

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