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Cold Weather Safety and the Elderly

pwilson January 14th, 2011, 9:03 AM
Paula Wilson, RN, Registered Nurse, Clinical Coordinator
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Years ago, when we moved into the house my mother lives in now, we had oil heat. Since heat rises, the upstairs was always warm, but when I would go downstairs, my body would tense up waiting for the cold air to hit me. I didn’t like to stay downstairs too much, because it was also too chilly, which would make me feel miserable. After one winter, my father said that was enough cold air for us, and the house was converted to gas heat. It took several more winters for me to relax my body going down the stairs — I had to remember that it wasn’t cold anymore. Now, many years later, I take comfort in knowing that my mother lives in a home that is warm, but I also know that precautions should still be followed by everyone, including the elderly, to be safe.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Hypothermia: Because the elderly have a slower metabolism, less body heat is produced and it is sometimes hard to tell when the temperature is too low for you. Stay indoors, especially when it is very windy, which can quickly lower your body temperature.
  • If you need to leave your home, make sure you are properly covered up with a hat, scarf and boots. Also, wear layers of clothes that can trap warm air.
  • Take special care if you have an illness that can affect how you deal with cold weather. For instance, diabetics may have less sensation in their feet or a person with arthritis may have a more difficult time navigating snow and ice.
  • If you use a cane, replace the rubber tip before it gets worn out.
  • Avoid alcohol. Although it can give you a warm feeling, it decreases the body’s core temperature.
  • Avoid caffeine. This is a diuretic which increases fluid loss, thus aggravating heat loss.
  • For a cold apartment, try using heavy drapes to block the cold. Sealers around the windows and door thresholds can also keep out drafts.
  • Keep heating vents and radiators clear of furniture and other items so warm air can circulate.
  • Have a neighbor or friend check on you if you live alone. That person may be able to alert you if your home has become too chilly.

What are other cold weather safety tips you can share?

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