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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

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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!

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Trips to the ER Often Signify a Tipping Point for Older Adults

Monday , January 13 , 2020

Trips to the ER Often Signify a Tipping Point for Older Adults

Children of aging parents often dread receiving the call that Mom or Dad has ended up in the hospital. Something as simple as a trip or fall, or even the flu, can turn into a full-blown crisis.

In today’s healthcare environment, patients aged 65 and older represent 40 percent of hospitalized adults, with approximately 20% of them readmitted within two weeks of discharge.

For many, a trip to the emergency room can signify a quality-of-life tipping point, as their ability to live independently lessens after a hospitalization.

The key to maintaining an active, healthy lifestyle lies in preparation. While accidents and infections can happen at any time and often catch families off-guard, having a plan in place can help those involved make rational choices.

Keep reading to learn how you can help your older loved one navigate decisions during a hospital stay and prepare for longer-term solutions once they head home:

A Downward Spiral

Research recently published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine shows that seniors are 14 percent more likely to have acquired a disability six months after visiting the ER than adults of the same age who didn’t end up in the ER.

What’s that mean?

After heading to the emergency room, these adults were much more likely than their peers to lose the ability to independently bathe, dress, climb down a set of stairs, prepare meals, exercise, and more.

Oddly, these seniors weren’t admitted to the hospital. They were seen, treated, and sent home – not something that would typically be considered a life-altering event.

Poorer Quality of Life

Research by Dr. Cynthia Brown, professor and division director of gerontology, geriatrics and palliative care at the University of Alabama, shows that many older adults experience a sharp decline in their ability to get up and move around for a full year after visiting the emergency room.

A decline of this sort can be associated with a lot of poor outcomes – poorer quality of life, placement in a nursing home, isolation and loneliness, and even sickness and death.

How Does a Trip to the Emergency Room Lead to Such Dire Circumstances?

For a younger adult, a trip to the ER is usually no big deal. When you get treated and sent home, it’s an indicator that you’re going to be ok.

Why is it so different for older adults?

Experts say that for seniors who are already struggling with day-to-day life, a trip to the emergency room might throw them over the edge. Emotionally, they may feel defeated and not want to try anymore. Physically, an injury or illness may put a strain on the already-limited resources they were working with.

Other possibilities may include seniors who become afraid of further illness or injury and limit their activities, or ER staff may miss underlying conditions which ultimately lead to bigger problems.

Family Members can Help Older Adults During and After a Visit to the ER

Older adults shouldn’t be left to navigate the often confusing and overwhelming Emergency Room environment alone.

If possible, a family member or loved one should stay by their side throughout the experience and help guide them through it.

Experts recommend the following:

  • Ask for a room: Sitting in the waiting room or in the hallway can be an overwhelming experience for older adults – especially those suffering from dementia or prone to delirium.
  • Supply a list of medications to staff: Make sure the hospital has an up-to-date list of ALL of the medications your loved one is currently taking to help avoid interactions and side effects.
  • Keep your loved one comfortable: Have a grab bag ready to go in case of an ER trip that includes everything they may need (eyeglasses, hearing aids, a comfy outfit, a favorite book or other activity)
  • Establish communication with hospital staff: Start by identifying your loved one’s primary ER doctor and the names of any specialists on their team. Request a meeting with the primary care, taking time to write down any questions and concerns beforehand. Don’t be afraid to advocate for your loved one if they are unable or uncomfortable speaking for themselves.
  • Learn about post-hospitalization care: Following a trip to the ER, your older loved one will need to have their health monitored by their primary care physician to avoid and further issues and rehospitalization. New prescription medications may be added to their daily routing with can interact with other meds, foods, or even alter their daily lifestyle. In addition, special medical equipment (like a walker or pressure mattress) may need to be purchased.
  • Determine where your loved one will live while they recover: Often, an older adult is able to go straight home and back to their normal routine after a trip to the Emergency Room. But on occasion, they may require a helping hand in the form of a hired caregiver or a loved one. Sometimes, the easiest solution is to move in with someone else (such as an adult child or other loved one) during the recovery process.

A trip to the ER doesn’t have to be a life-altering event for your older loved one. Knowing what to expect in advance and being prepared can make a huge difference.

Tell us – have you had an elderly friend or family member head to the ER? What was your experience?

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