Extreme Cold Weather Reminders For Seniors

Six trees standing tall in front of a mountain

You’ve likely heard the news already — it’s time to prepare for the cold as many parts of Canada are about to be hit with temperatures below -20 C. That’s the kind of cold that takes your breath away in seconds as the air sweeps into your lungs.

Even though Canadian seniors have been though their share of deep-freeze weather, things have changed over the years. All the old tricks for preparing for the cold still apply, but seniors should be a little more vigilant.

That’s a bold statement. It may seem backwards to say that people who’ve seen the most winters should be the most cautious, so what’s changed?

Mainly, the body has changed — we’re older! The risk of hypothermia is increased for seniors.

“Hypothermia occurs when a person’s body temperature drops below normal and stays low for a prolonged period of time. With advancing age, the body’s ability to endure long periods of exposure to cold is lowered.”

National Institutes of Health (NIH)

In addition to this, the NIH says some illnesses (like diabetes, for example) can affect the body’s response to cold. The same applies to some medications, including some over-the-counter cold medicines.

With this increased risk, it helps to remind us how we can best prepare for the cold weather ahead. The main areas to consider are your home, your vehicle, and your body. Here’s what seniors should consider:

#1: Prepare Your Home

You’ll want to actively take steps to prevent your pipes from bursting. This includes running a trickle of water through your taps occasionally to keep the lines clear (five drips a minute should do the trick). If your pipes do freeze, turn your water source/valve off immediately and call for assistance.

Keep the temperature on your thermostat the same all day and all night. Don’t make it work overtime in extreme conditions, or it may lead to problems. Even if you’re leaving the house for an extended period of time, leave your thermostat above 12 C or 55 F to keep pipes from freezing.

It’s also possible that you’ll loose power in your house. Have flashlights and candles handy so you’re not searching for them in the dark. It’s also a good idea to do a visual sweep of your house to make sure there’s nothing on the floor you might trip on in low light.

Stock up on necessary supplies like food, water, and medication (don’t forget pet food!). Some people even fill their bathtub with water when anticipating a power-outage since their water source may become unavailable. This water can be used to flush toilets until power returns.

And of course, have sweaters, blankets, hats, and mittens ready for bundling up!

#2: Prepare Your Vehicle

You should always have an emergency kit in your car, but it’s doubly important in extreme weather conditions. If you have one already, it never hurts to check it and make sure the food isn’t expired.

Don’t forget to plug-in your car when you’re not using it so it can start properly, and store booster cables in the vehicle just in case. If you know your car has issues with its battery, consider using another method of transportation because it will likely give you problems in cold conditions. Make sure your cell phone is fully charged when you leave the house, too.

#3: Prepare Yourself

It sounds a little dramatic, but it’s very important. You obviously know to bundle up when you go outside, but did you know that several thin layers will keep you warmer than one thick layer? Try to cover every bit of skin you can, and check for frostbite often.

Have a look at your winter boots. Have you had them for years? Are they still waterproof? Consider replacing them if they don’t fully do their job anymore, or if the tread is worn low. Speaking of feet, several pairs of socks isn’t always a good idea. If the socks make your boot too tight, it can cut off circulation which makes things worse; in this case, one thick sock is best.

Staying inside is an obvious way to keep warm, but if you go outside for a walk or to run errands there are things you can do to stay safe. Take your cell phone with you, but don’t rely on it. Smart phones can’t always handle the cold either; their batteries have been known to shut off in extreme cold.

For this reason, it’s a good idea to have a buddy system in place on piercingly cold days. Let a friend know when you’re leaving the house and tell them you’ll text or call when you return, and when that will be. This way, if anything happens and you need help, someone knows your whereabouts.

We should all be preparing our homes, cars, and selves for the cold. As we age, the risk of extreme cold increases so it pays to be diligent. We hope these reminders help!

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