Watch Out for Winter Health Woes

Experts offer tips to safeguard elderly this season

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SATURDAY, Feb. 25, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Winter can be wonderful, but it also poses hazards, especially for older adults.

The American Geriatric Society's Foundation for Health in Aging offers some winter safety tips for older adults and their caregivers.

Older adults have a slower metabolism, which means they produce less body heat -- rendering them more vulnerable to hypothermia. Hypothermia's symptoms include shivering; cold skin that is pale or ashy; feeling tired and weak; problems walking; and slowed breathing or heart rate.

In extremely cold temperatures, elderly individuals should try to stay indoors and keep rooms heated to at about 65 degrees F, keep dry, and wear two or three thin layers of loose-fitting clothing and a hat, gloves, coat, boots and scarf when outdoors.

People with heart disease and other circulation problems are also more prone to frostbite. Signs of this problem include numbness; pale or grayish-yellow skin; or skin that is hard or waxy to the touch. To prevent frostbite, keep all body parts covered and protected from the cold. If your skin begins to ache or turn red or dark, go indoors immediately.

Ice and snow increase the risk of falls, which can be especially dangerous to older persons whose bones are more fragile. Reduce the risk of falls by carefully shoveling steps and walkways to your home. But shoveling has its own risks for injury: talk to your doctor about whether it's safe to shovel. It might be a good idea to hire someone to do this for you.

Wear boots with non-skid soles and, if you use a cane, replace the rubber tip before it's worn smooth, the experts advised.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about cold weather and older adults.

SOURCE: American Geriatric Society, news release, February 2006

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