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Area Agency on Aging

Posted on: January 28, 2014


As winter waxes on, there is an ongoing risk, especially to the elderly, for exposure to cold temperatures. Exposure can come about for various reasons -- lack of fuel, furnace not working, lack of shelter entirely, inadequate clothing or accidents such as falling in cold water, or being locked out of the house. This risk manifests itself as frostbite and hypothermia. While frostbite, the localized freezing of a body part, presents a potentially painful and damaging result, hypothermia can be fatal.

Hypothermia is the unstable condition where the body’s core temperature decreases to the extent that major organ systems may be irrevocably damaged and may lead to death. This unstable condition is the result of heat leaving the body faster than it can be generated. Mild hypothermia presents itself with shivering and increased difficulty doing routine tasks. Advanced symptoms include confusion, drowsiness and depressed vital signs. When it comes to hypothermia, an ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure. Avoid situations where you could become vulnerable to even brief exposures to cold.
Steps to avoid being vulnerable to exposure to cold include:
• Dress warmly
• Keep furnace in repair and functioning efficiently
• Do what’s necessary to make sure an adequate furnace fuel supply is available (pay the bill,order fuel oil)
• Don’t go to the mailbox or onto your porch without adequate clothing
• Don’t go outside at night alone
• Check in with someone (daily or more often) who knows of your concerns about safety
• Get a friend or relative to see you in person immediately if you are cold and feel you are “losing it”

Also, help others whom you suspect may be vulnerable to hypothermia by maintaining regular contact with them on the phone and in person. Review with them the steps listed above, and do what you can to make certain of their compliance and safety.

Don’t hesitate to get more information to become more knowledgeable about and less vulnerable to hypothermia. Many websites are available to help. Also contact your local County Assistance Office, Area Agency on Aging, and fuel provider for help with Energy Assistance and information on hypothermia.

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