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Safe walking in winter for older people

Dressing in layers, adding grip to footwear and using a stick that’s the right height are all helpful ways to make going out in cold weather safe and enjoyable.

The chilly bite of winter is on its way and the drop in temperature and icy conditions can pose a challenge to those who are more fragile and less stable.

On the other hand it’s good for anyone of any age to continue to get out and about for at least 20 minutes each day. Not only is it healthy but research has found that a 20-minute walk on a daily basis can contribute to a happier lifestyle for older individuals.

That said, it is of course important to make sure that they are well equipped for any wintry conditions to prevent suffering from cold or injury.

Here are a number of ways in which to prepare your parents for winter walking, so they can continue to enjoy the outdoors and make the most of the frosty season.

Prevent hypothermia with the right clothing

Hypothermia occurs when an individual’s body temperature drops to worrying levels, which usually happens when they have been in the cold for too long. Elderly people are much more susceptible to hypothermia than younger individuals, especially if they have poor circulation.

Symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Cold and pale skin
  • Feeling overly tired
  • Appearing confused and weak
  • Struggling to walk
  • Slowed breathing

The threat of developing the condition over winter can be reduced through appropriate clothing. Three thin layers of clothing are recommended rather than one thick one. Your parents might also want to consider investing in some thermal clothing to wear underneath their everyday clothes. Keeping dry will help as well.

To further prevent the risk of hypothermia, make sure indoor heating stays at 18°C at the very least.

Protection from frostbite

Frostbite usually develops on parts of the body that are furthest away from the heart, such as fingers and toes, ears, the nose, and the chin, after long exposure to freezing temperatures.

As with hypothermia, those with circulation problems are more likely to suffer from frostbite than others, as are those with heart disease. Anyone with these conditions would be well advised to make sure they are completely covered by warm, insulating clothing.

If your parents are outside and their skin turns a dark red and is starting to feel sore, they need to get inside promptly. Other symptoms include hard, numb, waxy skin with a white or grey tone. If they experience any of the above, a medical professional should be consulted as soon as possible.

Prevent falls with a little preparation

When there’s ice, snow or sleet about a little preparation can help to reduce falls.

If the doorway of your parents’ home has steps leading up to it, it’s well worth investing in an outdoor grabrail to support them during icy weather. Any paths or driveways should have salt grit scattered over them as often as possible, and this might be something you or a local friend need to take care of, as the bags can be heavy.

Boots with thick, non-slip soles are imperative when heading outdoors, and if your parents live in an area that’s heavily affected by snow and ice, then attachable ice and snow grips that sit on the bottom of boots and shoes will come in handy.

While out walking on icy ground, taking short and flat steps can also provide more stability.

A well measured walking stick

Walking sticks are a fantastic mobility aid to support your parents when walking in winter, but it’s important to ensure that the walking stick is measured correctly and adjusted accordingly for the best results.

To set your parent’s walking stick to the right height, you can follow these simple instructions:

  • Ask your parent to stand upright, wearing the shoes they would expect to head outside in. Have them relax their arms down by their sides.
  • Flip the walking stick around and rest its handle on the ground by your parent’s side.
  • Where the walking stick meets the bottom of your parent’s wrist bone, make a small mark and adjust the length of the walking stick to meet this mark, by pushing in the two buttons and sliding up or down.
  • If you have purchased a wooden walking stick, a small saw will be able to cut the stick down to the right length.

Having your parent’s walking stick the right length will prevent them from hunching over or having their shoulder pushed upwards, as well as providing as much stability as possible when out and about.

Keep an eye on the ferrule of the walking stick – the rubber tip that comes between the stick and the ground. Replace the ferrule whenever it is worn down and smooth looking. You could also fit an ice spike that fits over the ferrule for additional support during the winter months.

This article was provided by Rebecca Jackson of Ability Superstore, specialists in providing mobility aids to make independent living easier for longer.

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