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Staying Safe this Season

by Jan L. Apple

With winter upon us, now's the time for seniors to think about safety.

If last year’s record snowfall is any indication of what’s in store, winter preparedness should be a high priority for everyone, especially for senior citizens. When there’s snow and ice, there’s a greater chance of injury for seniors. Prevention is key, according to a variety of health care professionals interviewed.

“The healing process is much slower,” explains Chris Serritella, a physical therapist and facility program manager for Moorestown Visiting Nurse Association. Not only is there bone loss as we age, she says, but our ability to recover from a fall or other injury is much more difficult.

No matter the age, during the winter, seniors tend to be more sedentary, observes Serritella, who suggests preparing ahead to avoid last minute panic. “People should have someone to clear their walkway and put down salt,” she says. “Leave a snow shovel by the front door. Make sure to stock up on food and medicine and arrange for deliveries; some area markets and pharmacies provide this service for a nominal fee or complimentary. And when carrying packages, people should be extra cautious as they walk.”

Serritella, who oversees home care in assisted living facilities throughout Burlington and Camden counties, recommends weight bearing exercises, including walking, to strengthen bones and improve balance as well as blood circulation. Even simple exercises like marching in place or rising up on one’s toes while holding on to the kitchen sink with both hands are beneficial.

“Use it or lose it,” says Serritella, citing statistics from National Council on Aging that “one in three community-dwelling persons over age 65 falls every year and one in two by age 80.” Serritella urges seniors to try their best to stay active and mobile, which will ultimately prove invaluable for strength and balance.

Another simple tip is wearing the correct footwear in winter weather, says Nicole Montone, LPN and hospital liaison for HCR ManorCare, a provider of post-hospital short-term rehabilitation services and long-term care. “It’s critical to wear footwear with traction,” she says, suggesting seniors avoid shoes with leather soles. Additionally, says Montone, when coming inside, it’s important to remove footwear because when snow or ice melts, this creates a potential hazard of slipping.

Winter weather can make driving conditions unpredictable for anyone, due to an increased chance of black ice. Experts recommend staying off the roads unless driving is absolutely essential. “When traveling, allow extra time,” she says. “Have your car winterized; make sure there is antifreeze in it and that the windshield wipers work. Be sure the windshield is clear of any snow.”

And with lower temperatures, people should be extra careful when walking on ice, snow and wet leaves.

“If you are a cardiac patient, you should not be shoveling,” adds Montone. All the more reason to retain such a service before a storm strikes. The same is true for prescription medications. “People should make sure they always have a seven day supply at home,” she said.

According to Barbara Wrzeszcz, marketing director at Collingswood Manor–a full service assisted living community–seniors should get plenty of rest and a good deal of exercise in the wintertime. “They should be as active as possible,” she says, as socialization is a critical component to maintaining good health as we age. “During the winter months, the days are longer and there’s not as much sun. People tend to get more depressed. Seniors should be more involved with activities.”

Keeping hydrated is another concern, especially when taking blood thinners, as they have the tendency to make people less thirsty. “Besides eating appropriately and taking medications, people want to continue to hydrate themselves,” she says.

“From a nursing perspective, one of the biggest concerns in the winter is preventing hypothermia,” says Marian Boben, RN and a clinical manager for Moorestown Visiting Nurse Association. “One of the easiest ways [to prevent hyphothermia] is to make sure seniors have enough oil for heat.” Boben recommends the thermostat be set between 68 to 70 degrees. Boben cautions against the use of kerosene and space heaters. Not only has she seen people trip over them, but if used incorrectly they can cause a fire.

Boben is also aware that seniors have resorted to using gas ranges to heat their homes, a dangerous idea that could cause carbon monoxide poisoning. “Make sure to have plenty of warm clothes, socks and blankets on hand in case there is a power outage. Have an emergency plan in place.” It’s also wise to prominently post the name of a contact person, perhaps on the refrigerator.

For seniors who live alone, experts recommend a buddy system, where someone checks on the person daily, or an emergency response service, such as Life Alert.

According to Serritella, there are numerous options and styles from which to choose; one can be purchased for as little as $25 or $30 a month. When pressing a button, the caller is immediately connected to a call center. If the operator gets no response, someone is sent out to the address.

The ultimate goal is not just to get through the winter, but to thrive and enjoy yet another of our area’s changing seasons. For the sake of the whole family, a few extra safety steps can lead to a happy and memorable winter.


Collingswood Manor
460 Haddon Ave.
(856) 854-4331

HCR ManorCare
Locations in Sewell, West Deptford, Cherry Hill and Woodbury

Moorestown Visiting Nurse Association
300 Harper Drive
(856) 552-1300

Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 5, Issue 10 (December, 2014).
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