What We’re Reading: Wintertime Dangers for Seniors

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With freezing temperatures affecting much of the country, it is important that people are aware of the health risks associated with cold weather. The sad story of a 93-year-old Michigan man who died of hypothermia highlights one serious risk of the winter months, a risk that is especially great for seniors.

Hypothermia occurs when body temperature drops below normal. A body temperature that is below about 95ºF is considered dangerous. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 600 Americans die every year because of hypothermia, and half of them are older than 65. The problem is exacerbated in tough economic times, when many people — particularly seniors — cannot afford to turn up the thermostat. In addition, older people are more likely to take medicines or have conditions such as dementia that may make it difficult to feel drops in temperature.

In cold weather, experts advise elderly people to wear warm (and dry) clothing, keep the thermostat as high as possible (ideally around 68ºF–70ºF), stay active, and avoid alcohol, especially at bedtime, because it makes the body lose heat faster. If you know a senior who may be at risk during the winter months, it is important to check on him or her periodically. There are even companies that can arrange for someone to check on elderly relatives or friends who live out of town.

Dehydration is another risk seniors face in colder months. Because older people naturally have less water in their bodies and tend to eat and drink less, they are more susceptible to dehydration. In the wintertime this risk is heightened because cold weather makes the body less able to tell when it is dehydrated. Dehydration can cause headaches and exhaustion and put people at a greater risk for common colds and falls. More serious symptoms can occur with more severe dehydration. Because of the risk of dehydration, all people are advised to drink enough water in the wintertime, even if they are not thirsty.

Many states and localities offer help with energy costs for people on low incomes. To find out about your state’s programs, go to this Web site or contact the Eldercare Locator here or by calling (800) 677-1116.

This blog entry was written by Assistant Editor David Golann

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