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Cold weather tips for seniors

Snow is beautiful, but it can cause havoc for seniors
(c) Nancy Carey

The nation has experienced a rash of cold temperatures and that beautiful, but dangerous, snow.

For seniors, cold temperatures and snow create havoc on their daily activities. They are confined to home because they can not walk or drive in the inclement weather. Falls and other accidents, hypothermia and depression are more common as the temperature drops. The key to safety is prevention. The following resources for seniors can help with winter weather concerns:


Information about the risks of falling and what you can do to prevent falls can be found on the National Institutes of Health NIHSeniorHealth Web site.

Fuel assistance programs are administered at the state level, and eligibility varies by state. To find a program in your area, as well as many other services for seniors, use the Eldercare Locator, a service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, a public service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, collects, develops, organizes and disseminates information on low-income energy issues.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Weatherization Assistance Program helps low-income families and individuals make their homes more energy efficient, thus reducing energy bills

Meals on Wheels Association of America (MOWAA) is the oldest and largest organization in the United States representing those who provide meal services to people in need

Keep Your Spirits High

Inclement weather can restrict activities and opportunities to mingle with others and can cause depression. Socializing is key to preventing depression. When the weather is too harsh for travel, call a friend or relative to chat. Or, contact the local Council on Aging for help locating a transportation service to senior centers or social activities.

Stay Warm

When it is cold outside, stay inside where it is warm. As people age, the sense of touch declines. Arthritis, diabetes, poor circulation, paralysis caused by stroke and many other conditions can cause lack of feeling, especially in the extremities.

A diminished response to cold can put seniors at risk for hypothermia (abnormally low body temperature). To prevent hypothermia:

· Keep your home’s thermostat set at 68 degrees F or above. If paying your energy bill is a burden, you may be eligible for fuel assistance. Contact the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, a public service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, or the Eldercare Locator, a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging.

· To reduce heating costs, make your home more energy efficient. Contact the U.S. Department of Energy's Weatherization Assistance Program to see if you’re eligible for home improvements paid for by the program.

Protect Your Skin

Along with aging comes changes in our skin: it becomes thinner and drier and thus more susceptible to tears. In addition, certain medications can thin already fragile nasal tissue, creating a risk of nosebleeds. To lessen the possibility of dangers associated with dryness:

· Keep room air moist. Add a humidifier to your heating unit, if possible, or purchase a separate humidifier or vaporizer. Keep your body moist! Drink plenty of water and other fluids. Eat foods with high water content like soups and vegetables.

· Moisturize your skin with creams or lotions.

BUT, if you must go outside …

Watch out for Ice

More than 1.6 million older Americans go to the emergency room each year for fall-related injuries, according to the National Institutes of Health. But falls don’t have to happen, even when snow and ice make for slippery conditions. To lessen the chance of falling in cold weather:

· Stick to cleared sidewalks and roads

· Use assistive devices when necessary

And finally, Be Prepared for an Emergency

Winter storms can mean power outages and resultant loss of heat, water and telephone services. Inclement weather can mean difficulty going out for necessary supplies. Be prepared for emergencies:

· Stock up on food and fresh water. Some Meals on Wheels programs provide frozen emergency food packs that can be heated on days when there is no delivery.

· Keep batteries, candles, flashlights, Sterno fuel, extra blankets and a battery-operated radio on hand.

Don’t wait for emergencies to develop a system of communication. Everyone living alone should develop a "buddy system." If you have an elderly neighbor, check on them, their heat could have gone out or their electricity. A quick call can be so important.

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