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Cold Weather Dangers for Older Adults

Monday , February 3 , 2020

Cold Weather Dangers for Older Adults

Did you know that a healthy adult can develop hypothermia in temperatures as high as 50°F?

Fifty degrees doesn’t seem very dangerous, does it? Most of us could comfortably go outside without a jacket in that sort of weather (at least for a few minutes).

During the winter season, though (even when the weather is abnormally warm, like it has been so far this year in New Jersey), prolonged exposure to cooler air can cause the body temperature to drop below normal – a condition known as hypothermia.

At older ages, and especially among the elderly, the dangers of hypothermia become greater and even a small drop in temperature can lead to serious consequences, including death.

Here’s what you need to know:

Why Are Older Adults at Higher Risk for Hypothermia?

 

Anyone can get hypothermia and most people will recover from a mild case with little to no side effects. For people aged 65 and older, however, the risks are much greater? Why?

  • The elderly have a lesser ability to regulate and control body temperature
  • Older adults have a more difficult time sensing environmental cold
  • Certain medications and illnesses can make it more difficult to regulate body temperature
  • Poor nutrition/not eating enough can leave older adults more vulnerable to the cold
  • Older adults have a diminished sense of thirst and are often dehydrated, even in winter
  • Many older adults are on a tight budget and can’t afford to properly heat their homes

Cold Weather Safety for Older Adults

 

Despite a predisposition to being more susceptible to cold, it IS possible for older adults to stay safe, healthy, and comfortable during the winter months. Here are some tips for keeping warm:

  • Maintain a temperature of at least 68 – 70 degrees Fahrenheit in the house.
  • To save on heating bills: Close off rooms you are not using (close vents and shut doors in these rooms), keep the basement doors closed, make sure blinds and curtains are tightly shut, and consider using weather stripping on windows.
  • Dress warmly on cold days, even if you are staying in the house.
  • When you go to bed, wear warm pajamas, socks, and a hat. Consider investing in flannel sheets and extra blankets.
  • Make sure you eat enough to maintain body weight – less fat under the skin makes it more difficult to maintain temperature.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol
  • If going outside, make sure to dress appropriately in layers of warm, light clothing, an appropriate coat, gloves, hat, scarf, and waterproof shoes. Avoid going out in excessively cold or stormy weather.
  • Ask friends or relatives to check in on you regularly during cold weather months.

Tip: If you are going to heat your home with a space heater, read Reducing Fire Hazards for Portable Electric Heaters and Seven Highly Effective Portable Heater Safety Habits from the Consumer Product Safety Commission. It is important to understand that many portable heaters can pose a fire or carbon monoxide risk.

Warning Signs of Hypothermia

The symptoms of hypothermia can mimic many other conditions and can be difficult to pick out – in yourself or someone else.

Sometimes, the best indicators come from the environment: Is the house cold? Is the person not dressed appropriately for the weather? Are their shoes or clothing wet?

If there are no clear giveaways, look for these common signs:

  • Cold hands and feet
  • Pale skin
  • Puffy or swollen face
  • Shivering (not always present)
  • Acting sleepy
  • Slower than normal speech or slurred words
  • Being angry or confused

More serious symptoms may include:

  • Slow heartrate
  • Shallow breathing
  • Moving slowly or being clumsy
  • Losing consciousness

What to do if Hypothermia is Suspected

If you suspect that you or someone else has hypothermia, call 911 immediately.

Until help arrives:

  • Move the victim to a warm, dry place (if possible)
  • Limit movements to only those that are necessary – do not rub or massage the person
  • If their clothes are wet, remove them and cover the person with warm, dry blankets or coats
  • If they are conscious, give them a warm beverage to drink
  • DON’T apply direct heat (hot water, heating pads, etc.) as it can damage the skin or, worse, cause irregular heartbeat

Posted in: Health

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Is it Alzheimer’s or Age-Related Memory Loss?

Monday , January 27 , 2020

Is it Alzheimer’s or Age-Related Memory Loss?

Have you ever walked into a room and forgotten what you went there to get? Stopped mid-sentence because you forgot what you were saying?

I’ve personally walked around my house looking for my cell phone while I was already holding it in my hand (on more than one occasion).

On occasions like that, I sometimes worry that my mind is slipping. You probably do, too. But most of the time, these incidents are simply a sign of normal age-related memory loss, lack of sleep, or even stress.

When should you worry? Experts say that if you still can’t remember what you were looking for later in the day, or if you seem to forget entire chunks of time, it’s time to see a doctor.

Here are five differences between normal aging and Alzheimer’s that you should be aware of:

  1. Retrieving Memories

In normal age-related memory loss, you may have trouble retrieving memories from long-term storage. This can lead to problems such as forgetting names or not recalling where you met someone. These issues can usually be overcome with cuing and context.

With Alzheimer’s Disease, there is a problem with retrieving recent memories that simply can’t be overcome. For example, you may have a guest in the morning and then by afternoon you can’t remember who stopped by – even if someone gives you a prompt such as, “It was a friend from grade school.”

  1. Chronological Memory

If you have dementia, you may have trouble recalling items or events in the order in which they occurred – whether events from your memories or the order of different parts of a sentence. For example, you may know that you went on vacations to Europe and to Hawaii, but you can’t remember which one came first (even though the trips were ten years apart).

Researchers have found that most people can recall recent memories in order (especially with audio prompts) but recall significantly decreases in those suffering from dementia.

  1. Planning and Problem-Solving

Normal aging typically means that it takes more time to think things through, reactions are slower, and multitasking becomes difficult. On occasion, you may forget to pay a bill or leave a pot on the stove a bit too long.

With dementia, things are a lot more difficult. You may become very confused when planning things out – even something as simple as what to have for breakfast. Concentration is difficult, if not impossible, to maintain and poor judgement is a frequent concern.

  1. Language

As you age, you may have a bit of trouble finding the right word sometimes. You might find yourself needing to concentrate more to keep up with a conversation or becoming distracted if too many people are speaking at once.

For those with dementia, however, finding the right word is a frequent problem and they often refer to objects as “that thing” or people as “that woman/man.” They regularly lose their train of thought and can’t keep up with conversation, and may even have trouble initiating communication with others.

  1. Orientation

Orientation problems can happen to any person at any age. Most of us have forgotten what day of the week it is or even what year, and we’ve all walked into a room and forgotten why we’re there.

These problems naturally increase as we age, but those with dementia may completely lose their ability to track the passage of time. In addition, dementia patients frequently have no sense of location and can get lost in places that were once very familiar (even their own back yard).

When to See a Doctor

When memory problems start to look like this, it’s time to seek medical help:

 

  • When memory problems don’t improve with cuing and context
  • Day-to-day functioning begins to decline with memory
  • You have difficulty with familiar tasks, such as operating the microwave
  • Bills are often missed or late
  • Others tell you that you’re forgetting things, but you are personally unaware that a memory problem exists

Final Thoughts

Many seniors panic at the first sign of memory problems, terrified that they signify dementia or Alzheimer’s. It’s important to understand that minor memory problems are often just a normal sign of aging. If you’re unsure of the severity of changes you’re experiencing, ask a loved one what they observe, or set up an appointment with your physician.

Posted in: Dementia

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How Senior Citizens Can Prepare for a Trip to the ER

Monday , January 20 , 2020

How Senior Citizens Can Prepare for a Trip to the ER

For many older adults, the emergency room can be difficult to navigate – and unfortunately, these visits can happen all too often.

Many seniors are chronically ill and frail, resulting in regular trips to the ER. Whether it’s for an unavoidable accident, a serious health complication, or something else, the best thing you can do for your loved one is to help them be prepared.

Knowing what to expect in advance – and having everything you need ready to go – can make the process a lot less stressful.

Here are some important steps you can take to make sure your older adult gets the care they need and deserve (and they get home as quickly as possible):

  1. Keep a Current List of Medications and Medical Conditions

It is very important that the doctors and nurses caring for your loved one know what medications they are taking and what health issues they have. To help them provide the correct treatment and prescribe the right medications, you should be able to provide:

  • A list of current medications
  • The actual pill bottles, if possible
  • A list of health conditions your loved one is currently being treated for
  • Bring a copy of recent blood work, x-rays, MRIs, and other lab tests if they may be relevant
  1. Know Your Loved One’s Allergies

Just as important as knowing which medications your loved one is taking is knowing which medications they are allergic to. You should be able to tell hospital staff which medicines they have a reaction to, how they react (rash, breathing problems, etc.), and how it is usually treated.

  1. Have a List of Doctors and Specialists

In today’s world, it is highly unlikely that you will be seen by your primary care physician when you visit a hospital or urgent care. Because the emergency room staff will be unaware of your loved one’s medical history, they will likely want to talk to their regular doctor. Having a list of all of your older adult’s doctors and specialists, and their phone numbers, will make it easier for the ER staff to contact them if necessary.

  1. Keep Insurance Cards Handy 

If you show up at the hospital without an insurance card, it’s not the end of the world. You will still receive treatment and you typically don’t have to pay up front – but correcting the error down the road can be a giant headache. Make sure you keep your loved one’s insurance cards in an easy-to-find location so you can quickly grab them when needed.

Note: Most hospitals also require a photo id (driver’s license, passport, etc.), so make sure to bring that along!

  1. Advance Directives and POLST/MOST Forms

Although no one likes to think about a worst-case scenario, it’s best to be prepared. The fact is, many of the conditions that cause seniors to visit the ER (heart attack, stroke, pneumonia, etc.) can be deadly.

If your loved one has an end-of-life plan or healthcare wishes, you need to advocate for them if they are unable to advocate for themselves. That means being prepared with an advance care directive which describes the medical treatments they might want and appointing an appropriate representative (if it’s going to be someone other than yourself).

  1. Have a “Go Bag” Ready

In the event of an emergency, you’ll want to get out the door as quickly as possible. Many people find it helpful to have an emergency bag packed and waiting.

Unfortunately, ER trips can be very time-consuming. Even if your older loved one doesn’t get admitted, they may spend hours in the emergency room waiting to be seen. They may even have to sit in a room overnight while awaiting test results.

Having certain “comfort” items with them can help make the whole ordeal less trying. Things you should pack include:

  • Toiletry kit (toothbrush, toothpaste, lip balm, brush/comb, etc.)
  • Glasses, hearing aids, dentures, and other necessary items
  • “Comfort” items, such as pajamas, slippers, cozy socks, and a favorite blanket
  • Phone charger
  • Books, crosswords, puzzles, or some other form of entertainment

Tip: Ask to stay with your loved one. Due to crowding issues, Emergency Departments often limit how many people can stay with a patient (if any). However, older adults often have extenuating circumstances such as dementia or confusion and can benefit from the company of a friend or loved one.

Final Thoughts

While this list contains many necessary items, it doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone. It is important to be aware of your older loved one’s particular situation so you can pack what is essential to them. Remember to keep everything together in one convenient location (such as a closet by the front door) so you know where it is when you need it!

Posted in: Health

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