For some of us, the winter weather brings much more than freezing temperatures. In the UK, there is a rise in the number of deaths among the elderly during this season. Due to the massive drop in temperature, older adults are prone to health and injury related problems such as hypothermia, frostbite, cold and flu, and ice falls. In addition, people who suffer from neurological conditions also have heightened nerve pain during periods of cold weather.
Here are 3 dangers of the cold you should look out for:
- Hypothermia: NHS statistics have shown that over three quarters of the people treated with hypothermia are the older adults over 60. There are over a thousand cases treated each year. Hypothermia occurs when your body temperature drops less than 35 degree Celsius. It can happen to anyone, but older adults run a higher risk because their bodies do not adjust to the changes brought by winter weather quickly. Thus, they may be unaware at the rate in which their body gets colder. This condition can turn fatal if it is not treated early. When hypothermia sets in, a person first feels cold, shivering and becoming socially withdrawn. As it worsens, the individual becomes confused, sleepy and then have a slur speech. In some cases, it can slow down your heart rate dangerously. To prevent hypothermia, older adults are advised to wear warm and multilayered clothing that has hand and feet protection. Also, if you feel your body temperature is dropping, you can take warm beverages but not alcoholic beverages. Furthermore, do not take a hot shower or bath when you feel symptoms of hypothermia as this can result in shock.
- Frostbite: Frostbite affects people whose body parts are exposed to cold weather for a long period of time. This can result to a loss of colour and feeling in the affected area. Frostbite affects areas such as fingers, toes, nose, ears, chin and cheeks. It can damage the tissue in the affected area which may result to amputation in severe cases. Older adults are at high risk to this health issue as they are classified as people with reduced blood circulation due to their limited daily physical activity. Signs of frostbite include numbness, waxy skin, tingling and reduced blood flow to the hands and feet. To avoid being a victim of frostbite, wear warm clothes that cover all the areas that frostbite can affect. If you notice any symptoms, immerse the affected part in warm water or use the warmth of your body heat to gently massage the area. Avoid using a radiator, fireplace or stove to heat up the affected part as this can easily result to burns since the area is already numb.
- Cold and Flu: Cold and flu affects an adult at least 3 times a year. It is usually more prevalent when the winter weather sets in and older adults are more prone to this infection. For the elderly, their immune system is a bit weak; this can mean they have a low supply of infection-fighting white blood cells in their nasal passage. Research has also shown that the flu virus thrives more when the weather is cold and dry. Symptoms of cold and flu include sneezing, sore throat, watery eyes, headache, runny nose, etc. As the symptoms progress, a person may then notice tiredness, loss of appetite, blocked nose and sometimes coughing. As a preventative measure, it is important that you wash and sanitise your hands regularly to avoid contracting the virus this winter season. You can also take cold medicines to lessen the symptoms and help your body fight off the virus. Some older adults also go for flu vaccinations. Avoid taking antibiotics as they do not work for viruses and can have side effects.
As the winter approaches, we should ensure that we wrap up warm to fight through the cold weather. In addition, we should try as much as much as possible to engage in activities in order to prevent reduction in blood circulation.