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1-18-11

Cold Weather and Senior Citizens

Cold temperatures can be dangerous for senior if precautions are not taken.  But a watchful eye can prevent debilitating results.

One of the most common cold-weather-related injuries among senior citizens is hypothermia.  Dr. Amber Barnhart, professor of family and community medicine at SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, explains the condition.

SOUND BITE:  The issue with hypothermia is that the body temperature gets low and that can be very hard on the heart and on the lungs.  But it starts with the extremities, so your fingers, your nose and your toes get cold and can have frostbite and senior citizens do not have the same level of sensation of cold as people who are younger so they are particularly at risk. . .”

Dr. Barnhart says hypothermia affects judgment, so seniors may not realize what they need to do to improve their situation.  Sometimes they fall on the ice and snow and are unable to get up, making the situation more serious.  Dr. Barnhart explains some other symptoms.

SOUND BITE:   The first sign of hypothermia is actually paying attention to the fact that you feel cold.  They may be shivering and not really recognize why they are shivering, but the shivering is to try to increase the body’s temperature.  Ultimately the hypothermia people often get confused.  They get very quiet.”

Dr. Barnhart suggests that family members and neighbors check on seniors on a daily basis during cold weather to make sure they are staying warm.  If a senior has symptoms of hypothermia, they should promptly see a primary care physician or go to the emergency room for evaluation and possible treatment.

This is Ruth Slottag at SIU School of Medicine in Springfield.