October 29, 2012

Be ready. Winter’s coming!

Morrison,-Bob-colorBy Bob Morrison
Development Director of Ridgecrest Village

Severe winter weather and plummeting temperatures mean little more than extra time scraping windshields for most people; however, they are serious concerns for local seniors. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when winter temperatures drop significantly below normal, staying warm and safe can become a challenge.

Extremely cold temperatures often accompany a winter storm, so you may have to cope with power failures and icy roads. Although staying indoors as much as possible can help reduce the risk of car crashes and falls on the ice, you may also face indoor hazards. Many homes will be too cold—either due to a power failure or because the heating system isn’t adequate for the weather. When people must use space heaters and fireplaces to stay warm, the risk of household fires increases, as well as the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Exposure to cold temperatures, whether indoors or outside, can cause other serious or life-threatening health problems. Infants and the elderly are particularly at risk but anyone can be affected. To keep yourself and your family safe, you should know how to prevent cold-related health problems and what to do if a cold-weather health emergency arises.

Taking preventive action is your best defense against having to deal with extreme cold-weather conditions. By preparing for extremely cold weather, you can reduce the risk of weather-related health problems.

There are steps you can take in advance for greater wintertime safety in your home. Although periods of cold cannot always be predicted in advance, weather forecasts can sometimes provide you with several days’ notice. Listen to weather forecasts regularly, and check your emergency supplies whenever a period of extreme cold is predicted.

If you plan to use a fireplace or wood stove for emergency heating, have your chimney or flue inspected each year. Ask your local fire department to recommend an inspector, or use the yellow pages under “chimney cleaning.” Install a smoke detector and a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector near the area to be heated. Test them monthly, and replace batteries twice a year.

Your ability to feel a change in temperature decreases with age, and older people are more susceptible to health problems caused by cold. If you are over 65 years old, place an easy-to-read thermometer in an indoor location where you will see it frequently, and check the temperature of your home often during the winter months.

Insulate any water lines that run along exterior walls so your water supply will be less likely to freeze. To the extent possible, weatherproof your home by adding weather-stripping, insulation, insulated doors and storm windows, or thermal-pane windows.

• Insulate walls and attic. Caulk and weather-strip doors and windows.
• Install storm windows or cover windows with plastic from the inside.
• Insulate any water lines that run along outer walls.
• Service snow-removal equipment.
• Have chimney and flue inspected.
• Install easy-to-read outdoor thermometer.
• Keep thermostat between 68 and 70 degrees – this is a helpful expense.
• Use economical electric space heaters with an automatic shut-off
• Dress for warmth by layering loose-fitting, lightweight garments.
• Keep extra bed blankets – helpful to trap warmth between layers.
• Keep hands and fingers warmer with mittens instead of gloves.
• Eat plenty; eat right – body heat is generated by burning calories.
• Check rubber tips on canes or walkers – worn tips can become slippery.

“Working with our Honor Flight veterans and Ridgecrest Village folks makes me keenly aware of concerns for the winter weather,” said
Bob Morrison, Hub Director of Honor Flight of the Quad-Cities. “It is extremely vital for families to take precautions to keep seniors safe through the winter months because some seniors don’t or can’t take the necessary steps on their own.”

Art Petersen is a long-time resident at Ridgecrest and is a volunteer board member of Honor Flight of the Quad Cities. Art said this about winter conditions; “It is so wonderful! I live in a beautiful cottage at Ridgecrest Village and I am able to look out my living room window at the park-like setting. Should it snow, there are nice people that come and clean all the walks of snow and ice. That means I can continue my daily routine without accidents or injuries.”

Some basic physiological differences make seniors much more prone to health problems related to the cold. Older adults have slower metabolisms, so their bodies don’t generate heat as quickly as younger people do to withstand colder environments. Many seniors also suffer from poor circulation, meaning their bodies struggle to pump blood to their arms, legs, hands, and feet. This makes them more easily susceptible to hypothermia, frostbite, and other common cold weather conditions.

Plan ahead to be prepared for the cold, and then find ways to be active with others. Together, you can find the reason to enjoy the season.