2005-02-04 / Community

Tips On Handling Winter’s Cold Weather

By Miriam Rosenberg

Dr. Fred Polsky, the director of medical affairs for Elderplan, Inc., explains the different ways that seniors can protect themselves against the cold of winter weather. 
Dr. Fred Polsky, the director of medical affairs for Elderplan, Inc., explains the different ways that seniors can protect themselves against the cold of winter weather. Contributing Editor

New York City shivered through the single digit temperatures of mid-January and blizzard conditions during the weekend of January 22. With the winter only half over, and more frigid weather sure to come, it is important to know how to protect yourself during the winter months.

On January 25, Dr. Fred Polsky (the director of medical affairs for Elderplan, Inc.) explained how senior citizens could protect themselves during cold weather at a lecture at the Joseph P. Addabbo Family Health Center in Far Rockaway. Yet, his recommendations could apply to anyone. In addition, The American Red Cross (http://www.redcross.org/services/hss/

tips/coldweather.html) website provides information on things all people must be aware of to survive the cold weather.

Dr. Polsky told those at the Elderplan Breakfast Meeting that many medical considerations that must be taken into account during the winter.

One of the first things that Polsky warned against is falls.

“Falling is a catastrophe for people over age 65,” Polsky said. “Many [as a result] get fractures, which requires hospitalization, which may involve surgery.”

A fall that involves a broken hip would result in bed rest. That could lead to bedsores and possible blood clots.

Shoes or rubbers that have traction on the bottom are invaluable at this time of year.

The cold weather may lead to numbness or even pain in the fingers or the toes. This is caused by poor blood supply to the extremities.

Polsky recommends wearing extra pairs of socks. To avoid hypothermia or frostbite the American Red Cross (ARC) advises people to wear insulated boots. This will keep feet warm and dry.

The Red Cross website provides the following symptoms of frostbite: gray, white or yellow skin discoloration, numbness or waxy feeling skin. Symptoms of hypothermia are confusion, dizziness, exhaustion and severe shivering. A doctor should examine anyone with symptoms of frostbite or hypothermia right away.

Polsky told those at the meeting to have their feet checked at their doctor or podiatrist to “look for evidence of circulatory problems.”

The skin under a person’s fingernails or toenails should be pink. According to Polsky “If the skin does not return to color after getting warmed up, that’s a danger.”

He said, “Sometimes blood vessels can go into spasms and constrict, and can last for 30 minutes to a day.”

The ARC recommends people wear mittens, which provide more warmth, instead of gloves.

Covering the nose and mouth makes a big difference in staying healthy.

“In the winter you are at risk for dehydration because you breathe more rapidly in cold weather,” Polsky said. He explained that the low humidly in the astrosphere pulls water out of a person’s airway.

“The cold weather [also] has the effect of causing the airway to have reduced resistance to infection,” continued Polksy. The best way to cover the nose and mouth is with a ski mask.

Polsky added that people should speak to their doctor during the winter about any medicines they currently take.

Diuretics (a water pill) lower blood pressure. He suggested that anyone taking such medication should speak with his or her doctor about possibly lowering the dosage or discontinuing the pill.

Beta-blockers, which are used to prevent heart attacks in someone who has already experienced one, affect circulation and constrict blood vessels.

Polksy advises to “take an inventory of all the drugs you take, or take them to the doctor. Talk to the doctor about side effects…ask if the doctor wants to change anything.” He further said that flu vaccine is in supply and diabetics, people with heart disease, people with lung disease and those who take medicines that reduce the immune system or persons with a transplant should be vaccinated.

The Red Cross’ website had other advice for surviving winter weather.

Since most body heat is lost from the head a person should wear a hat and cover their ears, remove wet clothes immediately, use a blanket or warm fluids to get your temperature back to normal and dress in layers.

During a storm, people should have a first aid kit, extra medicines, canned foods and one bottle of water for three days for each person in the home.

Shoveling snow after a storm can be dangerous. One of the leading causes of death during the winter is a result of heart attacks suffered from shoveling heavy snow.

As the Wave pointed out in last week’s issue, don’t forget about taking care of pets at this time of year.

Among some extra recommendations by the ASPCS (http://www. aspca.org) are not to leave pets, including cats, outdoors in the winter; wipe off a dog’s stomach and legs when coming in from the outside so they won’t ingest anti-freeze or salt; never leave pets alone in the car (which can become a refrigerator in winter months) and make sure that your furry friend, like you, has a warm place to sleep away from drafts and off the floor using a blanket, pillow or dog or cat bed.

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