January 3, 2019
Research shows that the rate of deaths from heart-related conditions increases during the winter. In fact, the rate is at its highest during the holidays.
Why the risk of heart attacks rises when it’s cold outside isn’t entirely understood, but doctors and scientists have collected some clues and developed some theories. Knowing why winter weather may put your aging relative at risk and how to prevent problems could save their lives.
Winter Weather and the Heart
One of the reasons the heart is affected may have to do with there being fewer daylight hours during the winter. The shorter days result in a change in the balance of hormones, including cortisol. This makes the body more vulnerable to suffering a cardiovascular event.
Another way that winter affects the heart is by making the heart work harder. Cold weather makes blood vessels constrict, which makes it harder to pump blood through them. To make matters worse, people are more likely to do their most strenuous chores of the day in the morning, like shoveling snow. In the morning, blood pressure tends to be higher, which further increases the risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
Yet, it doesn’t seem to be just cold weather that causes the spike in heart attacks. Research shows that heart attacks happen more often during the winter months even in warmer climates. Experts speculate that this may be because the flu also reaches its peak at the same time. The inflammation caused by the flu may trigger a heart attack.
Preventing a Heart Attack in Winter
According to the American Heart Association, there are several ways to prevent older adults from winter cardiovascular events, such as:
-Take Breaks: Remind your aging relative to take frequent breaks when doing outdoor activities, like shoveling.
-Avoid Alcohol Before and After Strenuous Activity: Drinking alcohol makes people feel warmer, so they may not realize how their body is reacting to the cold.
-Dress Warmly: Older adults should wear layers of clothing to prevent hypothermia. The layers trap warm air between them, keeping them warmer. They should also wear a hat and gloves or mittens.
Elder care can help protect seniors from a heart attack in the winter, too. An elder care provider can remind the older adult to dress warmly before going outside in cold weather. They can also encourage the senior to rest often and watch for signs of a problem. If a problem arises, an elder care provider can call 9-1-1 to summon emergency assistance.