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Seniors and winter safety

Seniors may not be able to escape the winter, but they can embrace it by taking up some kind of winter activity.

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. Slick roadways, driveways full of snow and wind can be dangerous for any of us, but even more so for seniors.

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 excessive shivering, loss of energy, feelings of confusion and sleepiness, cold skin that is ashy or pale, slowed breathing and a 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.

•Hire a professional to look after your 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 when there's no grass to cut.

Modify any items needed for getting around. 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 or snow.

•Remove your shoes when entering the home. If possible, keep a bench or chair inside the doorway you can 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.

•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 during the winter months, not to mention benefit your overall health in the meantime.

•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.

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