The extreme temperatures and snow of winter can be particularly dangerous for older adults. The elderly and those with heart disease are at special risk, according to the American Heart Association.
As people age, their ability to maintain a normal internal body temperature often decreases. Because elderly people seem to be relatively insensitive to moderately cold conditions, they can suffer hypothermia without knowing they're in danger, the Heart Association reports (http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4570).
Hypothermia means the body temperature has fallen below normal. It occurs when your body can't produce enough energy to keep the internal body temperature warm enough and the condition can kill. Heart failure causes most deaths in hypothermia, the American Heart Association notes.
The following tips from the local Home Instead Senior Care® office, will help you safeguard a senior loved one or neighbor.
• Fill the cupboard. Help seniors stock the staples and groceries they’ll need in the event of a large snowstorm or cold spell.
• Maximize energy. Encourage seniors to make sure they have adequate insulation and to check and clean the fireplace and furnace. Replace furnace filters monthly.
• Minimize drafts. Help your senior fill old socks with sand and use them in drafty windowsills and door jams. Weather-strip around windows and doors. Keep doors closed to unused rooms and close curtains at night.
• Stay toasty. Advise your senior to add an extra blanket to the bed and warm the bed in advance with a hot water bottle. Never use electric blankets. A senior may not be able to operate the controls if the temperature needs to be adjusted in the night.
• Dress warmly. A senior’s circulation decreases with age. Encourage your senior to wear an extra sweater or sweatshirt, and sweat pants during the winter.
• Monitor the thermostat. Check with your senior to make sure that they’re keeping the thermostat above 65 degrees during the cold weather. Older adults are particularly susceptible to hypothermia, which can develop over a few days and weeks even in the mildly cool indoor temperatures of 60 to 65 degrees.
• Beware of budget problems. Make sure your senior isn’t trying to save money by keeping the thermostat down. Many communities have energy assistance programs for low- and fixed-income households.
• Avoid slips. Make sure your senior has made arrangements to have driveways and walkways cleaned. Salt and sand should be available to speed melting.
• Stay in touch. Check on your neighbor or loved one frequently during periods of cold and snowy weather.
• Build a network. You can’t always be around to help your elderly loved one. Call on neighbors, family and church members to help. Or contact your local Home Instead Senior Care office.
For more information about the cold, visit the National Weather Service Web site at http://www.noaa.gov and the Federal Emergency Management Agency Web site at www.fema.gov. Or, to learn more about Home Instead Senior Care, log on to www.homeinstead.com