Fall is here! The autumn weather has begun to cool the air and turn the trees bright colors. At this time of year, it’s important for families to prepare for cooler weather and the additional health risks for seniors that accompany it.
Senior citizens are among our fastest growing age groups in the United States. Baby Boomers (adults born between 1946 – 1964) are rapidly turning 65 and joining the ranks of retired adults. Unfortunately, with their age comes the onset of additional health risks and likelihoods of developing chronic diseases. Some of these health risks are increased during the cold fall and winter months.
The seasonal influenza or flu is a contagious disease that causes congestion and inflammation of the nose, throat and lungs. It can lead to serious complications, such as hospitalization and even death. Pneumonia and bronchitis can occur due to a severe case of the flu. The flu can also cause current chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, or asthma to become worse.
The elderly, those 65 and older, are at higher risk for developing severe cases or complications from the flu virus. This means that, during flu season, it is important that seniors take steps to prevent the onset of the flu virus.
How to Reduce the Risk of the Flu:
The best ways to prevent catching the flu are simple. Flu vaccinations are important to preventing the flu, especially for those at high risk. Washing hands regularly, having checkups with an internal medicine doctor as soon as symptoms show, and avoiding others that are already sick are excellent ways for seniors to reduce their chances of catching the flu.
Exposure to Elements:
While the Pacific Northwest stays mostly mild throughout the autumn and winter months, it is still important that people dress warmly. Failing to dress in warm clothing, such as coats, scarves, mittens, and boots, can put a strain on our bodies and immune systems. This is especially true for the elderly.
Seniors that have chronic conditions such as asthma, or have struggled with bronchitis and pneumonia should pay particular attention to dress warmly. Exposure to the cold or becoming chilled can lead to complications of current health problems, or the development of new illnesses.
How To Reduce The Risk of Health Complications Due To Exposure:
Dress warmly! Before leaving your home, make sure that you or your senior family member has a warm coat, scarf, hat, and gloves. It is wise to keep an extra set of winter wear in each vehicle to make sure that if a warm day suddenly gets chilly, or proper attire is forgotten or left behind, that you can still keep warm.
You should also be sure that all vehicles have blankets or sleeping bags stored in the trunk as well. If your car breaks down, you’ll need to make sure that everyone is able to stay warm until help arrives.
Risk of Falls or Weather Related Injuries:
Cold weather means ice and occasionally snow in the Greater Seattle area. This makes it easy for our senior citizens to slip and fall when entering or exiting their homes or other buildings.
Falls among the elderly will often cause severe disabilities. In fact, falls are the leading cause of death among accidental injuries of the elderly. Falls can cause broken limbs, head and brain injuries, and can make it difficult and dangerous for a senior to continue living on their own.
How to Reduce Risk of Falls:
The best way that you can reduce risks of falls for yourself or someone else is to take precautions. If if it snowy or icy outdoors, spread sand or kitty litter over the exterior steps and sidewalks regularly. Placing textured mats or rubber strips on stairs will also help to provide a better grip for shoes.
If you have friends or family members that are at risk of falling, it is important to check in on them regularly. Keeping their pantries and fridges well-stocked with food will help them to stay in when the weather is bad, and offer to help them run any urgent errands during particularly cold or snowy weather.
Going Into Winter Weather Healthy and Well
Helping the elderly stay healthy and well enough to remain in their own homes for as long as possible is one of our goals at Community Health Center of Snohomish County. Our team of internal medicine providers is eager to help keep you and your cherished older family members well throughout these upcoming fall and winter months. Schedule an appointment with our staff today for your flu vaccine and regular check-up. Together, the seasonal health risks for seniors can be overcome!