The start of 2014 will likely always be remembered for one thing: the weather. Schools are closed, businesses are shuttered, and many Chicagoans are hunkered down in their homes, trying to stay warm and wait out the frigid weather pattern. Chicagoans are used to mounds of snow and cold temperatures. But rarely have we seen both in such as combo as is engulfing this part of the country right now.
According to the most recent reports, our area is experiencing one of the coldest streaks in decades. With temperatures plunging well below zero and winds moving as usual, spending too much time outside in this weather poses serious health risks to even the heartiest of residents. The dangers are even more acute for those most at risks, including seniors and nursing home residents.
Frostbite, Hypothermia, and the Danger of Cold
As the Chicago Tribune reminded readers yesterday, the elderly and young children are most at risk from cold weather injuries. For one thing, when part of the skin is exposed to these extreme temperatures for too long, the tissue can become frozen due to the body’s inability to provide proper circulation. This is commonly referred to as frostbite. The first sign of frostbite is lost feeling in the area, which then results in the skin turning white, gray, and waxy. Small extremities are most at risk, like fingers, toes, ears and the nose.
Alternatively, a general cooling of the body is known as hypothermia. It is often even more dangerous than frostbite and should always be treated by professionals. Hypothermia refers to a dangerous drop in the body’s overall temperature (which usually runs steady around 98.6 degrees). Technically, hypothermia is usually defined as existing when the body’s internal temperature falls to 95 degrees or lower. It is not uncommon for hypothermia to lead to serious complications. At least six people have died in the area already this year from the body temperature drop.
Protect Senior Loved Ones
The National Institute on Aging (NIA) recently released helpful information and tips sharing details about the danger of hypothermia affecting older residents. Common ailments–like diabetes–and medications typically taken by seniors can complicate hypothermia, making it easier to set in and harder to recover from. To help prevent your senior loved one from experiencing hypothermia in these frigid temperatures, the NIA shared several recommendations, including:
–Keep the thermostat high. Believe it or not, in this weather, even homes at 60 or 65 degrees can result in severe drop in body temperature for seniors.
–Using clothing layers as much as possible. Long underwear, extra socks, multiple sweaters, blankets, and other layering tools are flexible and helpful to ensure proper warmth.
–Check with doctors to determine if medications or other treatments increase hypothermia risks.
All of these tips seem straightforward, but many seniors may not appreciate the risks. Others may face cognitive challenges which make it difficult for them to take the steps necessary to protect themselves. As always, it is better to be cautious with these matters. Stay indoors, ensuring proper temperatures, and wait out this cold streak.
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