With the recent winter weather across much of the US, including areas like the Deep South not accustomed to this type of weather, safety concerns arise. In addition to the obvious issues of hazardous driving conditions, power outages, and cold-related injuries, as a neuropsychologist I am especially concerned with possible brain injuries.
Brain injuries in winter weather often occur when individuals venture out and slip on ice or other uneven surfaces. Importantly, older adults may be more susceptible to brain injury due to shrinkage of the brain with aging. To use a highly scientific term, the brain is extremely "smushy". The skull is extremely hard. Striking of the brain against the skull is responsible for much of the injury seen in conjunction with motor vehicle collisions. Essentially, in older adults, there is more room for the brain to "bounce around", therefore increasing risk of brain injury, even with minor falls or accidents.
If you are an older adult or are caring for or love an older adult, please consider the following:
(1) Even a small amount of ice or snow (especially melted and refrozen) can be slippery, especially in those with pre-existing balance difficulties. Do NOT go out to get the mail, let the dog out, or take the trash out under these conditions, no matter how innocent it may seem. It only takes one misstep for a catastrophe to occur.
(2) Driving skills are often already diminished in older adults due to physical factors such as changes in vision and age-associated cognitive decline such as reduced processing speed and reaction time. Driving should therefore be avoided in winter weather events given the increased risk for accidents.
(3) Don't be afraid to reach out. Several law enforcement agencies and volunteer groups are providing transportation and other services (i.e., driveway clearing) to older adults or those otherwise in need. For example, locally, the Greene County Sheriff's Office has made a standing offer of transportation to individuals in need of medical care, prescriptions, or other urgent needs. Similarly, Back the Blue out of Craighead County is doing much the same, including driveway clearing. Finally, many church groups make these services available, as well, often through their youth programs.
When in doubt, stay IN. No piece of mail or, yes, even a pup is worth your health and well-being. Stay inside and enjoy the view!