Preparing for Winter: Protecting Yourself from the Cold
The Illinois Department of Aging and the Federal Emergency Management Agency websites offer advice to assist older adults in staying healthy during the winter months ahead.
It is recommended that older adults stay indoors as much as possible during periods of bad weather. Major winter-related threats, especially to older people, are frostbite and hypothermia. Frostbite is a severe reaction to cold exposure of the skin that can permanently damage fingers, toes, the nose and ear lobes. Symptoms are numbness and a white or pale appearance to the skin.
Hypothermia, or low body temperature, is a condition brought on when the body temperature drops to less than 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms include slow or slurred speech, incoherence, memory loss, disorientation, uncontrollable shivering, drowsiness, repeated stumbling and apparent exhaustion. If these symptoms are detected, call 911 and begin warming the person slowly by getting him/her into dry clothing and wrapping them in a warm blanket covering the head and neck.
Here are some tips for preventing problems due to harsh weather exposure:
- Wear layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, water repellent clothing.
- Make sure the house is well-insulated and free from drafts.
- Eat and drink properly to supply body heat and avoid dehydration; but avoid alcoholic beverages, which cause the body to lose heat more rapidly.
- Over half of your body heat can be lost from the head and neck, so wear a hat and scarf outdoors.
- Remember to cover your mouth with a scarf to protect lungs from cold air and avoid overexertion, such as shoveling snow.
- Use several lightweight blankets rather than one heavy one for the most warmth while sleeping.
- Pull down shades and close drapes at night to keep your home warmer.
Even mildly cool indoor temperatures of 60-65 degrees can trigger hypothermia over a period of time. Older persons are advised to set their thermostats at 65 degrees or higher during winter months.