December 23rd, 2016

Winter can provide some of the most beautiful scenery, but winter storms can happen quickly and without warning, causing power outages, stranding people, and creating unsafe walking conditions. This winter make sure that you are taking the necessary precautions to prevent health concerns and injuries related to cold weather. Some concerns include frostbite, hypothermia, and falls.

As winter settles in, older adults and people with disabilities are even more at risk. Adults with disabilities and mobility concerns, who live alone, are at risk for falling and not being found. Personal Emergency Response Systems are one way to get help immediately should an emergency arise.

Frostbite

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Frostbite is an injury caused by freezing of the skin and underlying tissues. Frostbite is likely to occur on body parts furthest away from the heart. Common places are nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, and toes.

Mild Frostbite can be treated with first-aid measures, including rewarming the skin. All other frostbite may require medical attention because it can cause damage to skin, tissues, muscle, bones, and nerves which can lead to infection.

Symptoms of this can be cold skin, numbness, pins and needles feeling, burning sensation, hardening of the skin, and paleness. Severe cases of frostbite can result in loss of limbs. People with heart disease and other circulatory problems are at a higher risk.

For more information on or the treatment of frostbite please visit: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/frostbite/basics/treatment/con-20034608

Hypothermia

Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can be produced. Body temperatures can drop when you are exposed to cold weather for extended periods of time.

Hypothermia isn’t limited to just outdoor exposure, but can develop after prolonged exposure to low indoor temperatures. An older adult may develop mild hypothermia when exposed to indoor temperatures that would generally be fine for a younger or healthier adult.

When body temperature drops, your heart, nervous system, and other organs cannot function normally. Left untreated, hypothermia can lead to complete failure of the heart and respiratory system.

Symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, although shivering stops as hypothermia worsens, slurred speech or mumbling, confusion, loss of consciousness, slow, shallow breathing, and lack of concern about one’s condition.

For more information on or the treatment of hypothermia please visit: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hypothermia/basics/treatment/con-20020453

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Precautions to take to prevent frostbite and hypothermia:
  • Stay indoors (or lower the time spend outside)
  • Keep indoor temperature at 65 degrees or warmer
  • Stay dry, wet clothing can chill your body quickly
  • Dress smart- layering up can keep you warmer (Essentials are: hats, gloves, coat, boots, and scarf)

Falls

Winter conditions increase the opportunity for anyone to fall, but especially people that may already struggle with balance or mobility issues. Although falls can happen anywhere, over half of all falls happen in or around the home. Falls at home often happen while a person is doing normal daily activities.

Did you know?

  • 2.8 million fall related injuries are treated each year
  • 25% of Americans aged 65 and over fall each year
  • The total cost of falls by 2020 will be $67.7 billion
  • Over 50% of falls happen at home
  • Every 11 seconds an older adult is treated for a fall.
  • Every 19 minutes an older adult dies from a fall

Falls threaten senior safety and independence, and generate enormous economic and personal costs. One way to prevent falls during the winter months is making sure that the porch, driveway, sidewalk, and other walking areas have been thoroughly cleaned. Having rubber-soled or non-skid shoes, new tread on your walker or cane, and taking a couple of minutes each day to stretch your limbs and loosen muscles can help to maximize stability.

Increased risk factors in regards to falls:

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  • A history of fall in the previous year
  • Dependency in activities of daily living
  • Alcohol misuse
  • Confusion and cognitive impairment
  • Poor vision
  • Poor balance or coordination
  • Gait disorders
  • Inappropriate footwear
  • Environmental factors including home hazards
  • Muscle weakness

Winter safety tips

Get a Personal Emergency Response System, more commonly known as medical alert devices.

Stay indoors during severe winter weather. Keep indoor temperatures no lower than 55 degrees.

If going outdoors is necessary, dress warmly and in layers. Tell someone where you are going and when you will be back.

Make sure the path to your door, garage, and mailbox are all shoveled and free of debris. If possible, have someone shovel for you.

Use salt to melt icy sidewalks and steps or cover the ice with something gritty or non-slippery (sand, cat litter). Ideally you should sprinkle salt before or immediately after a storm.

Allow yourself plenty of time to get where you need to go in winter weather. Taking your time will reduce your risk of falling, especially if you use an assistive walking device.

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As a friend or family member, it is a good idea to check on loved ones regularly. If you live out of town, make arrangements for neighbors to check in on your loved one and provide a number to call in an emergency.

How can your home keep you safe?

  • Safety bars
  • Furniture replacement
  • Remove floor rugs
  • No small pets or add a bell
  • Night lights
  • Less clutter
  • Personal Emergency Response System

Fall prevention safety tips:

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  • If you have polished floors, use a non-skid polish
  • Avoid using mats and rugs at the top or bottom of stairs
  • Use handrails and lights on all staircases
  • Have safety bar securely fitted above the bath
  • Keep items you use often in cabinets that you can reach easily without a step stool
  • If you have a pet, consider putting a bell on their collar so that you know when they are close by

How to get assistance when a fall does occur:

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  • Use the “light on/light off” plan. When you go to bed, turn your outside light on. When you arise, turn the light off. This way your neighbor will know if there is a problem within several hours.
  • You can use the “call a friend/family member” method. Call someone to check-in at prearranged times during the day.
  • Use a Personal Emergency Response System that can be activated at any time for any reason 24/7.