Snow, cold disproportionately threaten older people
By Kathleen Ewald, www.Move.com
Winter storms bring new health hazards for seniors. Cold-related injuries, from frostbite to falls, are particularly common among older people who are more susceptible to the effects of winter weather than younger people.
The following tips can help seniors get through the icy, cold, wet weather that is winter.
Icy, unshoveled walkways.
Slippery and snowy sidewalks can be difficult, particularly for seniors with balance and stability problems, to navigate.
Solution: Keep sidewalks and driveways well shoveled; apply rock salt or sand to create traction on wet or icy patches. Shoveling is strenuous and shouldn't be undertaken by older or unfit people. Look to friends and neighbors to help shovel or hire a contractor to plow or shovel after a storm. Sturdy, waterproof boots with rubber soles and treads make walking on slippery surfaces easier and safer.
Exposure to cold weather can lead to frostbite (white, frozen skin) or hypothermia (lowered body temperature, characterized by shivering, confusion and dizziness). Seniors, with less efficient circulatory systems than younger adults, are at increased risk.
Solution: Check a weather report before leaving home, paying close attention to the wind chill factor, which indicates how cold it feels outside. (A wind chill below -10 degrees F is considered bitterly cold.) Dress in layers to avoid losing body heat. Wearing a hat with earflaps and mittens (which allow the fingers to touch, promoting heat) or insulated gloves thwarts frostbitten ears and fingers. Thick wool or synthetic socks and waterproof, insulated boots will protect feet from frostbite. If you notice signs of frostbite, seek medical attention immediately.
Hypothermia can be life threatening for older adults. If you suspect hypothermia, take the person's temperature. If it's below 96 degrees, it won't register on an oral thermometer, an indicator the person must get to a hospital immediately.
Sunlight reflects off white snow, causing glare that can make it difficult to see.
Solution: Wear sunglasses with ultra violet (UV) filters, suggests Connie Harvey, an American Red Cross health and safety expert. Overexposure to UV rays can lead to cataracts of the eye. In addition, sun is damaging to skin, even in winter. Seniors (and everyone) should apply an SPF 15 sunscreen to their faces before engaging in outdoor activities on a sunny winter day.
Finally, don't lose contact with others when bad weather hits. "Seniors should always have a network of friends or family who will check in on them," says the Red Cross's Harvey.
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