By Kathryn Cavanaugh, RN, MSN,
LCMH Manager Health Promotions
Winter in Chicago presents dangers to the elderly and the people who care for them. Chilling temperatures and treacherous snow and ice can terrorize the elderly and their caregivers. There are certain ways to maximize safety for this vulnerable population.
Here are a few things to keep in mind to help keep seniors safe during the frigid season.
Hypothermia. Each year, half of Americans who die from hypothermia are at least 65 years old. The elderly are particularly susceptible to becoming dangerously chilled because they have less fat, slower circulation and a more sluggish metabolism. A senior can even become hypothermic while indoors; never set the thermostat below 65 degrees for a person who is 75 or older. Make sure that an elderly person is warmly dressed when inside the house as well as outside.
Dehydration. Seniors are especially prone to becoming dehydrated simply because they eat and drink less than younger people, thus they consume less water. People also feel less thirsty during the winter and so are more prone to not drinking enough as they should. Make sure your elderly loved one is drinking consistently.
Ice and snow. Sidewalks slick with ice and snow pose a serious falling hazard for an elderly person. Make sure that the porch, driveway, sidewalk, etc. of the senior has been thoroughly cleaned. Try not to let them do it themselves; bring a shovel or hire an outside service. To maximize a senior’s stability, be sure that they have rubber-soled shoes and new treads on their walker or cane.
Disaster kit. Winter storms can be fierce enough to knock down power lines and confine seniors to their homes. Make sure seniors are equipped with a disaster kit. Each kit should include enough food and water for several days, a few days’ worth of the senior’s medication, a flashlight, a weather radio, extra batteries and first-aid essentials.
Space heaters. While they can provide an elderly person with some much–needed warmth, precautions need to be taken so heaters don’t become health hazards. If the heater is gas–powered, make sure the senior has a functioning carbon monoxide detector. If the heater is electric, make sure the cords aren’t damaged or fraying. Keep all heaters away from flammable materials such as cloth and paper, and make sure the smoke detector is working properly.
Clothing. Mittens, scarves, sweaters, hats and coats are a few of the must-have articles for seniors in colder climates. Even in indoors, the elderly should be dressed in layers so they can take clothes off if they are too hot or put more on if they are too cold.
Check in. Stay in touch with a phone call and drop–in visits.
Top Programs in January
Little Company of Mary Hospital, 2800 W. 95th St.
Knee and Hip Screening, Little Company of Mary O.P.C.C., 6700 W. 95th. St., Oak Lawn Free. Dates, times and registration: 708–423–5774.
Health Academy: Panel Presentation on Weight Management, Sat., Jan 11, 11 a.m., Oak Lawn Pavilion, 9401 W. Oak Park Ave. Free. Registration: 708–423–5774.
Wake Up Call Screening: Assess your risk for heart disease and stroke, Sat., Jan. 18. One–hour appointment includes healthy heart labs, ultrasound screening of abdominal aorta and carotid arteries, peripheral vascular screening, heart rhythm screening for atrial fibrillation and kidney health screening. Includes personalized visit with wellness nurse educator. $160 (payment required at time of registration). Registration: 708–423–5774.
The Ups and Downs of Diabetes, Sat., Jan. 18, 8 to 10 a.m. Topics are: changes in diabetic treatment, nutrition and well-being, positive thinking and keeping active. Includes light breakfast. $5. Seating is limited. Registration: 708–229–5629.