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Winter Watch for Senior Citizens

10 Tips for Having a Safe Season

NEW YORK (Aug 8, 2006)

Winter is a special time for caution if you or someone in your family is an older adult. It is the season for flus, for slips on icy streets, and for other dangers that are especially great for senior citizens.

"Something as simple as a fall can be devastating for older men and women," says Dr. Rafael Bejarano-Narbona, medical director for Geriatric Practice of the Ambulatory Care Network at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center. "Before the cold weather arrives, it is important to prepare."

Dr. Bejarano (pronounced bay-RAHN-o) offers tips for a healthy and safe winter:

  • Get vaccinated annually against the flu. The season for flu runs from mid-October to mid-March, and the illness can be fatal to older adults. The vaccine offers some, if not complete, protection.
  • Ask your doctor about Pneumovax, the vaccine against pneumococcus, which protects against pneumonia.
  • Check the lighting in your house. Make sure there are no great contrasts from one room to another, because older people have difficulty adjusting to changes in light and high contrasts increase the risk of slip and falls. Also, use night lights, and tape extension cords to the floor – don't let them lie around.
  • Check your rugs. Make sure they are not wrinkled or torn in a way that can trip you up as you walk. Use padding or special tape to prevent them from sliding.
  • In the bathroom, have mats inside and outside the tub to keep you from slipping on a wet surface. If you need them, install grab bars inside the tub, and always check the temperature of the water before getting into the tub.
  • Continue your exercise regimen – indoors if possible. However, avoid strenuous exercise like shoveling snow.
  • Maintain your diet and a good level of hydration. Drink at least four or five glasses of water every day. This should not change just because it is winter.
  • Make sure your smoke alarms are working. If you live in your own house rather than an apartment, you should also have carbon-monoxide detectors.
  • Wear appropriate footwear. Comfortable shoes with anti-slip soles will help you navigate icy streets.
  • Have a programmable phone with emergency numbers entered. Another good idea for older persons living alone is a personal emergency response system – a device worn around the neck or on a bracelet, which can summon help if needed. Wear this device all the time, and use it.


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