Cold as big a threat as heat to elderly

Jan. 3, 2013 at 3:14 PM
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NEW YORK, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- Winter cold snaps can be as perilous as summer heat waves to the elderly and frail, a U.S. geriatric expert says.

"Something as simple as a fall can be devastating for older men and women," Dr. Evelyn Granieri, director of the Division of Geriatrics at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/The Allen Hospital in New York, said in a statement.

Granieri said there are many risks for older adults who never leave their home in the winter, and recommends keeping the thermostat set to at least 65 degrees to prevent hypothermia. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said hypothermia kills about 600 Americans every year, half of whom are 65 or older.

Granieri advises seniors to make sure smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms are working, and make sure there are no great lighting contrasts from one room to another. There are fewer hours of daylight in winter, and older people need a higher level of illumination in the home.

Granieri recommends drinking at least four or five glasses of fluid every day. People might not feel as thirsty as they do in the summer, but as people age their body can dehydrate more quickly, putting them at greater risk for complications from a number of illnesses and changing the way the body responds to medications. She also advises using creams and lotions to prevent dry skin caused by low humidity.

Anyone who lives alone should have a way to communicate quickly with others via cellphone or a personal emergency response system, a device worn around the neck or on a bracelet that can summon help, she said.

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