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Front Page » February 19, 2009 » Senior Focus » Senior safety and health: It's an important part of life
Published 2,424 days ago

Senior safety and health: It's an important part of life

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In the winter....

Whether you're a fan of winter or more of a hot fun in the summer sun type, once the cold weather hits you're often at the mercy of the elements.

Older adults who don't travel to warmer climates once the temperature drops can find winter a formidable foe. Seniors on the cusp of another harsh winter should consider the following safety tips to make it through the season in one piece.

•Understand hypothermia and frostbite: Hypothermia is a condition in which a person's body temperature is abnormally low, typically at a dangerous level. Symptoms of hypothermia might be misconstrued as normal side effects of a cold winter. However, hypothermia can be fatal. Symptoms of hypothermia include the following.

•Excessive shivering.

•Loss of energy.

•Feelings of confusion and sleepiness.

•Cold skin that is ashy or pale.

•Slowed breathing.

•Reduced heart rate.

Frostbite is somewhat easier to detect, but can lead to loss of limbs in some cases. Frostbite is characterized by skin damage that can go all the way to the bone, typically affecting the nose, ears, cheeks, fingers, or toes. To protect against frostbite, cover up all parts of the body when leaving the house and immediately get indoors if your skin starts to redden, turn dark or even ache.

Seniors should hire a professional to look after their property. Each winter, seniors put themselves at great risk of injury when they attempt to shovel their own driveways and walkways. Because the strength of our bones begins to deteriorate as we age, a fall for a typical senior citizen will result in far more damage than it would for a younger person or child. Rather than risk personal injury, hire a professional to clean up your driveway and walkways should it snow. Oftentimes, landscapers provide this service during the winter months.

Older people should also modify any items needed for getting around. For instance if you need to walk with a cane, modify the cane before the winter weather hits. A metal grip on the bottom of the cane will increase stability. In addition, if the hand grip is worn, replace it with a fresh grip to help you maintain balance should you be forced to walk on patches of ice.

This is an interesting note, but seniors should remove their shoes when entering their home during winter weather. If possible, keep a bench or chair inside the doorway you most use when entering your home. This will provide a place for you to sit down and remove your shoes when entering the home. Frequently, after a snowstorm, snow or ice will attach to shoes, only to melt once a person enters the warmer air of the house. If you keep your shoes on when coming in from the cold, this ice or snow will melt throughout your home, creating a few slippery puddles in the process. This will leave you susceptible to falls and increase your risk of injury.

Another good suggestion is to exercise whenever possible. Regular exercise enables muscles to stay strong while maintaining coordination and balance. Each of these things will reduce the risk of injury not to mention benefit your overall health in the meantime.

Finally, the change in becoming a senior needs to be recognized. Embrace what you cannot change. If you're not a fan of winter, try to view it in a new light. Try taking up a wintertime activity such as skiing to enjoy the season.

The point is that caution in all things is important, but understanding how things have changed for seniors over their younger lives becomes more important as they get older.

The disabled...

Disabled individuals and seniors who have reduced mobility are often looking for ways to modify their living and working spaces to improve functionality. One of the areas typically given the most careful consideration is the bathroom.

According to United States National Health Statistics, roughly 200,000 bathroom-related accidents occur each year. Many of these accidents are falls. The Public Health Agency of Canada says that one in three seniors will experience a fall each year, and many seniors fall more than once. The bathroom and stairs are listed as particularly dangerous areas for falls.

Simple modifications can make the bathroom safer for someone with special needs. Here are some renovations to consider.

•Install grab bars in the shower and by the toilet. Bars enable an individual to steady himself or herself and provide support.

•Walk-in baths are available for those who have trouble stepping inside of a traditional bathtub. Most feature a waterproof swing-out door that enables the bather to simply walk into the bathtub enclosure. If a bathtub overhaul isn't an option, a comfortable bath seat can be used for showering.

•Only use bath mats that have secure, non-slip backings. Bath mats absorb dripped water and can help prevent falls on slippery tile floors. However, without a skid-resistant backing on the mat, the rug is rendered unsafe.

•Consider a raised toilet seat. Bending to sit on the commode and lifting oneself back to a standing position can be difficult for a person with a disability. A raised toilet seat reduces the distance an individual has to bend. Used in conjunction with a grab bar by the toilet, injuries can be reduced.

•Install a telephone inside of the bathroom in case of an emergency situation. A person who has fallen or is ill can easily reach the phone and contact a loved one or emergency services personnel.

•Clear out extraneous clutter. Most bathrooms are modest in size, which can make maneuvering challenging. Keeping the decor and accoutrements sparse reduces the chances of tripping.

•Install soap and shampoo holders at a comfortable height. Bending or reaching for bathing necessities can be dangerous when contending with slippery wet conditions. Keep products at a height that is convenient.

The lifestyle...

As the aging process progresses, most men begin making health a priority. But many of the health problems both men and women encounter as they age are the result of lifestyle choices they made when they were younger and continued to practice as they got older.

Fortunately, the human body has an amazing capacity to recuperate, meaning it's never too late to make lifestyle changes that can make a person's golden years more healthy and enjoyable. While the term "lifestyle change" can seem overwhelming, many of these changes are far easier to put into practice than it might seem.

•Watch your weight. Obesity levels have exceeded, reached or are approaching all-time highs in many developed nations. Obesity can be very harmful to adults approaching their senior years, as obesity increases a person's risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease.

Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best things a person can do to avoid the series of problems that men and women can encounter as they get older. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points out that defining a healthy weight depends on a number of individual factors. For example, age is a determining factor, as a healthy weight for an individual at 45 might not be considered healthy when that individual turns 60.

Because each person is unique, defining a healthy weight is something that should be discussed on a case-by-case basis with a physician. Past health history and physical activity level are significant factors in determining a healthy weight.

•Make dietary changes. To some, the thought of changing their diet is an unwelcome one. Because food is such a big part of most people's lives, this is often seen as the most difficult change to make. However, a series of subtle changes as opposed to a massive dietary overhaul can do the trick.

While many people eat healthily during their three meals per day, it's the in-between meals hours where diet often suffers the most. Snacks high in saturated fat can be very unhealthy. By switching snacks to a serving of fruits or vegetables, men and women can ensure they're getting their recommended servings each day, and may be reducing the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases as a result. The majority of fruits and vegetables are low in fat and calories, and also provide essential vitamins and minerals. The CDC offers a fruits and vegetables calculator on its Web site at

•Be more active. Becoming more physically active is something many adults need to do. The CDC estimates that 50 percent of American men and women do not get enough physical activity to provide health benefits. Physicians recommend 30 minutes of daily, moderate physical exercise. While finding the time can be a tough, 30 minutes, the length of a typical television sitcom, really is not much time at all.

Those who haven't been active in a while need to ease back into being physically active, perhaps starting with a daily walk on flat ground and then gradually tailoring a routine that is more challenging and beneficial as the body acclimates itself to daily activity.

•Recognize and deal with stress. Stress can be very harmful to all men and women. The negative side effects of stress are both physical and mental. Stress can lead to excess weight gain, which, as previously mentioned, can increase the likelihood of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and diabetes. While stress is a fact of life for most, both in their professional and private lives, it's important to recognize that stress can be very detrimental. Though there are no guaranteed and foolproof ways to reduce and manage stress, research has shown that exercise has proven a reliable source of stress relief for many people.

•Finally, recognize your limitations. Embrace the fact that some things you used to do, you just can't do anymore.

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