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Senior Matters: An Ounce of Prevention
mary kenyon
Mary Kenyon

Fall is my favorite time of year. College football, rustling leaves, pumpkin spice and myriad warm colors dotting the landscapes around us. Summer salads and light fare are replaced with comfort food and hearty crockpot creations. Long aimless hikes (more like wandering walks for me) are a little shorter, making time for that pile of must-reads accumulating on the side table. 

The chill in the morning air also reminds us of rapidly changing conditions that can, and will, affect senior health and safety. A little preparation, or a lot for some, will lead to a safe and healthy season. So, let’s turn over a new, or falling, leaf and make some plans.

While the fluttering leaves are beautiful, their accumulation, coupled with morning frost, can be a falling hazard for all, especially seniors. The fallen leaves hide other dangers such as uneven sidewalks, steps and small objects. Leaves also clog gutters that lead to ice dams and all the perils associated with them. Bottom line – get raking!  Once the walkways and driveways are clear, put out a bucket of your favorite deicer (or kitty litter) near your garage or front door – handy especially for those shaded areas. Other outdoor task reminders include irrigation system blow out (at least get your name on the landscaper’s list) and bringing in, or covering, the lawn furniture. A Little Help Roaring Fork Valley volunteers are happy to help with these tasks.

Naturally, the aging process leads to weight loss resulting in less cushion on our bones. So do as all Coloradans do – layer up!  Seniors are more susceptible to hypothermia (in and outdoors) especially when dehydrated and tired, taking certain medications and/or experiencing lower metabolic rates caused by diabetes. Bundle up! Extra layers, water and blankets should also be stored in your vehicle in the event of road closures and unanticipated delays. 

The new season also brings a greater risk of falling with an older adult being seen in the ER, for a fall-related injury, every 11 seconds. Ouch! The risk of falls increases proportionately with age. For people over age 65, falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries and at least half of people over 80 fall each year. That’s a lot of falls and a good reason to invest in a good pair of treaded, non-skid winter walking shoes or boots.

Before the winter rush, especially with our limited number of smaller-job contractors, now is also the time to prepare your home for the colder weather. Inspect your HVAC units and change filters as necessary. Clean that fireplace and flue. Make sure your windows and doors are sealed properly and invest in energy efficient window coverings. (Knowledgeable local resources for these issues are CORE and Holy Cross Energy.) Portable heaters are not ideal but if you must use one, make sure it has a thermostat and plug it directly into the outlet (no extension cords) and away from furniture.

Check and/or change batteries in smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. If you need any assistance with reaching the detectors or finding the battery compartment (always fun when they are beeping at you), contact our local fire departments – they are happy to help. As the days get shorter and darkness falls earlier, it is good to have flashlights in strategic places such as in your car, at the front and back doors and by your nightstand – with working batteries, of course!

Health risks also rise with the change of the seasons. As immune systems become weaker with age, older adults, especially those over 65, are at a higher risk of serious complications from the flu. The CDC reports that 50-70 percent of seasonal flu hospitalizations and 70-90 percent of seasonal flu deaths have occurred in people 65 years and older. Time to get a flu shot. 

The CDC describes two types of recommended flu shots for people 65 and older: a High Dose Flu Shot (containing 4 times the amount of antigen as the regular one) and Adjuvanted Flu Vaccine (creates stronger immune response to the vaccination). They also recommend pneumococcal vaccinations to protect against pneumonia, meningitis and blood infections. For my part, I recommend that you consult your physician and take advantage of the Fall AVH Health Fairs in El Jebel Oct. 12 or the dedicated Senior Health Fair Nov. 1 at Aspen Valley Hospital. (I have already registered). They provide flu shots, blood draws and free additional screenings and information. As always, wash your hands often, hydrate, avoid people who are sick and cover your cough (please!).

In the words of Ben Franklin, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Fall is a wonderful time of year in the Roaring Fork Valley. After preparing yourself and your surroundings, gather a friend, furry or otherwise, and get out and enjoy it before the snow flies. Sammy and I will see you out there.

Mary Kenyon has worked on the Pitkin County Aging Well Plan initiatives for the past five years and is the new Roaring Fork Valley Director of A Little Help. She is passionate about identifying issues and resources for seniors in the Valley. Email her your challenges and suggested solutions at mary@alittlehelp.org.