Staying Warm

man wearing winter clothesWinter storms are dangerous! Nationwide, there are 2,000 fatalities directly attributable to cold weather every year, on average more fatalities than from hot weather, tornados, and hurricanes combined.

Older people are particularly susceptible to cold weather. To keep from being a statistic, be aware of the latest weather conditions and forecasts. If going outside, be aware of wind chill. Wind chill is a how cold it feels because of the combined effects of cold temperature and strong wind.

Knowing what to do in bad weather and emergencies can help prevent life-threatening and costly accidents. Dress warmly and limit your exposure to the cold weather. Dress in loose-fitting, layered, lightweight clothing. Wool clothing will help you stay warm. Wearing several light layers will trap more body heat. In addition, keeping your clothing dry will prevent loss of body heat.

Other good habits include eating regularly, dressing warmly even indoors, and staying as active as possible. Keep warm in bed by wearing enough clothing and using blankets. Avoid alcoholic beverages because it causes the body to lose its heat more rapidly as it dilates surface blood vessels.

Older people should avoid putting themselves in situations that may lead to long exposure to winter weather, such as spending too much time outdoors or taking a car trip during extreme winter weather conditions.

Older people should be especially careful about frostbite and its winter relative, hypothermia, as older people are often the most susceptible. Frostbite is the easiest to recognize. Symptoms include loss of feeling to areas of the body exposed to cold such as cheeks, nose, chin, forehead, ears, hands, and feet. The skin affected will have a white or pale appearance. The frostbitten area should be wrapped in blankets or coats, etc., and should be warmed up gradually. Medical attention should be sought immediately.

Prolonged exposure to the cold can lead to hypothermia, a subtle, but very serious problem. Symptoms of hypothermia include slow, slurred speech, or incoherence; memory loss or disorientation; drowsiness, repeated stumbling, and exhaustion. Uncontrolled shivering can be a symptom also, but not always with older people.

If medical help is not readily available, warm the person slowly by warming the trunk of the body first, not the arms and legs that can cause other medical problems if warmed first.

To prevent frostbite and hypothermia, take measures to be sure that you and your older loved ones do not develop frostbite and hypothermia in the first place.

A home thermostat set too low can lead to health problems. Since slightly cool indoor temperatures can cause hypothermia in an older person, the temperature should never be set below 68 degrees, particularly for those with chronic illnesses or low activity levels.

As always, a person’s best allies are his or her friends, neighbors, and relatives. Set up a system of friendly calls or checkups with others in times of cold weather, and ask others to check up on you.

As always, a person's best allies are his or her friends, neighbors, and relatives. Set up a system of friendly calls or checkups with others in times of cold weather, and ask others to check up on you.

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