Contributor: Ronan Factora, MD
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
For people who experience four seasons, winter can be a great time for sledding, skiing and tobogganing. But despite the outdoor pleasures during this time of year, there are daily practical hazards associated with ice and snow. Shoveling snow and clearing walkways and driveways are a routine part of the winter experience. Preparing to tackle these chores is important, particularly for many older adults who live alone.
If this is you, make sure you’re covered well enough to keep warm when you’re going to step outside into the cold. Older adults often have a lower core body temperature, have less muscle to generate the heat needed to raise their body temperature and will have problems maintaining this temperature due to medical problems and medication effects.
It’s not unusual even in warmer months for older persons to report that they feel cold, even when the thermostat is raised to a higher temperature than younger adults are used to. The best and most practical solution is to make sure you wear clothes that provide appropriate insulation to protect you from the cold weather and to help keep heat closer to your body.
For older adults considering tackling the driveway snow, it’s worthwhile to use your judgment to decide if it’s a good idea. It may be sensible to ask someone else to do the work for you if you’ve:
- Had a prior fall
- Have ever broken a bone or are at a higher risk for breaking your hip as a result of osteoporosis
- Have medical conditions that would limit your ability to engage in high-intensity exercise
This is particularly relevant to individuals who have a history of heart disease, have their mobility restricted because of pain or a neurological condition, like Parkinson’s disease, or have a lung disease that restricts their mobility, such as emphysema.
For those who are able, consider these few safety steps:
- Make sure you’re wearing appropriate footwear. The boots worn should have good traction to help reduce slipping. There also are commercial products available that provide additional traction on shoes.
- Dress to stay warm.
- Take breaks when you get tired. No need to do everything at once.
- Tell someone what you’re going to do. If an accident were to happen while you’re shoveling the snow, it’s good for someone else to know what you’re doing so they can check up on you to make sure there were no problems. You don’t want to wait for a passerby to help you.
- Think carefully about doing this job. If there’s any doubt that you would be able to do this job without incident, it’s better to have someone else do it for you rather than risk an injury.
Many people have older friends, family and neighbors who spend the winters living alone. It’s worthwhile to check up on them when the weather is inclement and the driveways and walkways need to be cleared.
Keeping track of your older family members’ or neighbors’ whereabouts and needs can make them feel more connected to the community and can help insure that their surroundings remain clear and safe without taking the risk of clearing the areas themselves. It is the good neighbor and the caring family member who offer up assistance in appropriate times, even if it’s not needed.
This post is based on one of a series of articles produced by U.S. News & World Report in association with the medical experts at Cleveland Clinic.