Recently, the AGS Foundation for Health in Aging published several tips to aid seniors and those who care for them in avoiding these common, and sometimes deadly, risks.
Because older adults have slower metabolisms, they tend to produce less body heat than younger people. As people age, it becomes more difficult for them to tell when the temperature is too low. A deadly drop in body temperature, or hypothermia, could result. Here is how to avoid hypothermia:
• Stay indoors when it's very cold outside, especially if it's also very windy; and keep indoor temperatures at about 65 degrees.
• If you have to go outside, don't stay out in the cold or the wind for very long.
• Wear two or three thinner layers of loose-fitting clothing. Layers are warmer than a single thick layer.
•Always wear a hat, gloves or mittens (mittens are warmer), a coat and boots, a scarf to cover your mouth and nose and protect your lungs from very cold air.
• Stay dry; wet clothing chills your body quickly.
• Go indoors if you start shivering -- it's a warning sign that you're losing body heat.
• Know the warning signs of hypothermia: lots of shivering; cold skin that is pale or ashy; feeling very tired, confused and sleepy; feeling weak; problems walking; slowed breathing or heart rate.
Note: Don't rely on shivering alone as a warning sign, since older people tend to shiver less, or not at all, even as their body temperature drops. Call 911 if you think you or someone else has hypothermia.
To lower the odds of a fall:
• Do not walk on icy or snowy sidewalks; look for sidewalks that are dry and have been cleared.
• Wear boots with non-skid soles so you do not slip when you walk.
• If you use a cane, replace the rubber tip before it is worn smooth. You might also buy an ice pick-like attachment that fits onto the end of the cane to help keep you from slipping when you walk with the cane. (Find these at medical supply stores)
Dehydaration in the winter:
Dehydration is one of the most frequent causes of hospitalization among people over the age of 65. Worse, at least one study has found that about one-half of those hospitalized for dehydration died within a year of admission.
Older people are at greatest risk for dehydration because the mechanism that normally triggers thirst becomes less sensitive with age. In addition, as we age, a lower percentage of our body weight is water, so dehydration can occur more rapidly.
Those most vulnerable to dehydration include elderly people who live alone, especially when they are ill. In addition to fluid lost from fever from flu, or diarrhea from a stomach virus, sickness usually interferes with normal eating and drinking patterns.
Beware of alcohol intake too. Alcoholic beverages increase risk of dehydration because the body requires additional water to metabolize alcohol.
Be aware of common symptoms of dehydration: fatigue, headache, dry nasal passages, dry, cracked lips and overall discomfort. Drinking at least 6 to 8 cups of liquid per day, part of which can come from fruit juices, milk, coffee and tea, is the best defense.