Keeping Seniors Safe in the Winter

Senior Care in the Cold Weather of Philadelphia during Winter

Wintertime is full of fun events, such as ice skating and sledding. It also creates problems driving and keeping warm – especially for seniors. And when there is a cold snap, cabin fever is sure to set in. However, for young people (i.e. children) and seniors, extreme cold temperatures are dangerous and can lead to hypothermia and death if precautions are not taken.

Winter Safety Tips for Older Adults

Everyone wants to enjoy the winter months, including taking in the beautiful scenery and enjoying more indoor activities. Yet, seniors have more health problems than younger adults. Here are some winter safety tips to protect them from the cold:

  • Dress for the Cold. When you (or your senior) wants to go outside to enjoy the snow (i.e. playing with the grandchildren), dressing in layers of clothing is a must as well as thermal underwear, a winter coat, a hat, a scarf and gloves. Depending on the temperature outside and the length of time spent outdoors, hypothermia is a real threat. What exactly is hypothermia? It is when your body temperature drops below the normal body temperatures of 98.6º ̶  there is no body heat. You can get hypothermia in several ways:
  • Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures – in the wintertime and in the springtime (e.g. temperatures drop at night). This can easily occur when shoveling snow, which increases the risk of a heart attack due to health and exertion. The warning signs of a heart attack include intense chest pain, shortness of breath and extreme fatigue.
  • Prolonged exposure to cold water – falling through the ice while skating on a pond or from a boat or kayak capsizing.
  • Wet clothing – Wearing wet clothes for an extended period (i.e. in cold temperatures).
  • Sleeping in a cold house – Seniors can get mild hypothermia from sleeping in a cold house overnight when the indoor temperature is below 60º due to a power outage from a winter storm (snow and/or ice). If you are experiencing home heating issues, they should be addressed right away. It’s good to be prepared for a power outage with extra blankets, flashlights and candles.
  • Memory loss. Seniors with memory problems (i.e. Alzheimer’s) can wander away from group outings as well as leave their home without the proper winter clothing or even warm clothes.
  • Prolonged exposure to wind. Windy conditions can cause cold temperatures, which can lead to hypothermia.

According to the CDC, Americans over the age of 65 account for more than half of hypothermia-related deaths. Signs of hypothermia include shivering, numbness, drowsiness, and loss of consciousness. First aid for hypothermia includes getting the person to a warm area and removing wet clothing. Give the person a non-alcoholic drink. Most people will want to apply heat to a cold extremity. Do not do this – it will lower the body temperatures even further. Also, if the person is unconscious, seek medical help and call 9-1-1 as well as get the person warm as soon as possible. If the person is not breathing, start CPR.

  • Avoid ice covered and slippery surfaces. Some ice-covered areas are easy to spot. However, black ice isn’t. When going out, it is vital to wear appropriate shoes (i.e. not sneakers). The shoes should have non-skid soles and be water-proof. Even if you are just going to get the mail, wearing shoes is a must. Injuries sustained from slipping and falling on ice include hip and wrist fractures and head injuries, especially in adults age 65 and over.


To provide traction on slippery surfaces (e.g. slush) during the winter, cat litter is a good choice. It contains magnesium oxide, which reacts with ice to extract water from it. It’s also a great way to weight down the back of your car to achieve more traction in snow.

However, salt is recommended to melt ice. Before and after a snowstorm, treat your walkway and driveway with salt.

  • Wintertime depression. The cold temperatures not only keep seniors inside but from going to events too. This can cause seniors to feel isolated and lonely, thus seasonal depression. To combat these feelings, seniors should not be afraid to let others know how they feel. Family members should check on their elderly loved one or ask neighbors and friends to create a check-in system. During the winter months, seniors (or their family members) should look into adult day care or an assisted living facility. They provide exceptional senior care and seniors have contact with their peers and can take part in activities.
  • Cold and flu season. Winter is also cold and flu season. Seniors have a higher risk of becoming ill because they are kept inside with others who may be sick or have a compromised immune system. This time of year, a senior diet should include foods that boost his to her immune system, such as citrus fruits, spinach, broccoli, red bell peppers, and garlic. Also, family caregivers should be proactive in disinfecting areas that are prone to germs (e.g. door knobs) and take care of drafty windows that let cold air into the home. For more information, contact your healthcare provider.
  • Winterize the vehicle. For older people who still drive, winterizing their cars should be a top priority. Be sure to:
  • check to see if the windshield washer reservoir is full.
  • keep a winter weather kit in the car: an ice scraper, water, blanket, flashlight, cell phone charger and snacks (e.g. nuts). Be sure to have your cell phone with you too.
  • check the tires. If a tire(s) cannot pass the penny test, which is inserting a penny into the tread (groove) of the tire. If Lincoln’s head is visible above the tread, the tire(s) need to be replaced.
  • check the battery. Does the battery have a sufficient charge? It’s important to make note of when the battery was purchased and its warranty.
  • check the windshield wipers. If they leave streaks, it is time to replace them.

Always check road conditions before planning an outing. Seniors who are not comfortable driving in the winter time should ask a family member for transportation assistance. Or, employ an in-home care service that provides transportation.

  • Carbon monoxide poisoning. This is a silent killer because it is odorless, colorless and tasteless. It is vital that carbon monoxide detectors be in the home and frequently checked to avoid carbon monoxide problems. If your vehicle has a keyless start, do not start the car in the garage with the garage door down. This can create a carbon monoxide build up. Also, make sure the car is turned off after parking it in the garage (with the garage door down). Carbon monoxide can flood the home and cause death.


Space heaters, lanterns and fireplaces can also cause carbon monoxide poisoning and can be fire hazards. If you are using a space heater or lantern, be sure to read the safety instructions and/or have a family member check it out for you. For fireplaces, make sure it has been checked out by a chimney sweep (or a family member) before cold weather sets in.

Trustworthy Senior Care in Delaware County

When it comes time to make the decision to use an in-home care agency, we are here for you. At Comfort Keepers Springfield, our highly trained staff will show your loved one the dignity and compassion he or she deserves in their golden years. We offer a range of services depending your senior’s needs. You’ll find dementia and Alzheimer’s care, interactive caregiving, in-home care and much more. Contact us today for a free consultation!

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Michael P. Bannan / About the author