As the temperatures continue to drop and winter looms ever closer, it’s time to start thinking about cold weather dangers for older adults. While the frigid temperatures can wreak havoc on anyone, it’s a particularly vulnerable time for children, seniors and anyone with chronic illness. Here are some of the most pressing dangers you should be aware of during this season.
Each and every year, there are around 700 people in the United States who die from hypothermia. The condition occurs when your body temperature drops below 95 degrees F or lower. If not treated properly and immediately, hypothermia can be fatal. Seniors run the highest risk for hypothermia, as their bodies can’t adjust to temperature changes as quickly and they often don’t realize they are getting slowly colder.
Signs and Symptoms: If your loved one has hypothermia, they will feel cold, experience body shivering and become socially withdrawn. As the condition worsens, they will eventually become mentally confused, sleepy and display slurred speech. If not treated immediately, the heart will slow to a dangerous rate and death can occur.
The Common Cold and the Flu Virus
While the common cold and the flu are not two illnesses that are specific to winter, they are both more prevalent during cold weather. Each senior gets an average of about five colds a year, while 1 in every 3 will come down with the flu. A recent scientific study showed that winter temperatures can actually cause someone to develop a cold by limiting the supply of white blood cells within the nasal passage, where cold viruses usually enter the body. Additional research has also proven that the flu virus is able to stay airborne and active a lot longer when the air is cold and dry.
One of the most devastating and gruesome effects of exposure to cold weather has to be frostbite. Skin exposed to bitter cold temperatures and high, cutting winds is always at risk. The nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers and toes are the most commonly affected areas.
The risk of frostbite increases when seniors suffer from reduced blood circulation or they do not dress appropriately for the cold temperatures. The condition causes a loss of feeling in the affected areas and can lead to permanent damage of the body tissues. In severe cases, frostbite can require amputation of the affected area.