Winter Holds Many Hazards for Seniors, Expert Warns

SATURDAY Jan. 12, 2013 -- Winter brings special challenges for elderly people and they need to be aware of these issues and take steps to protect themselves, an expert says.

Seniors need to get a flu shot, especially if they have a chronic lung condition such as emphysema. It's not too late and flu shots are available as late as March, said Dr. Michael Lucchesi, chair of emergency medicine at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Congestive heart failure is another common issue and "some people are a few potato chips away" from worsening the condition, according to Lucchesi. Patients should avoid salty foods, follow their dietary restrictions, avoid overindulging in food and drink, and plan ahead so that their prescriptions don't run out over the holidays.

Cold temperatures can be dangerous. Seniors with respiratory conditions are particularly sensitive to cold air, which can cause spasms in the lungs. Elderly people should limit the amount of time they spend outside in the winter and limit the amount of skin exposed to the cold. Even the neck and face can lose heat and put seniors at risk for hypothermia. Some medications can also cause the body to lose heat, Lucchesi warned.

Winter-related injuries are another issue. For example, snow shoveling can lead to back injury and even a heart attack. Slips and falls are another danger. Seniors should take small steps, wear sensible shoes and hold onto railings when going down steps.

It's a good idea to call your doctor's office to find out when it's open during the holidays. Get prescriptions filled in advance. These steps may help prevent the need to go to an emergency department, Lucchesi said.

More information

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency offers more winter safety tips.

Posted: January 2013


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