Archive for Sunday, January 26, 2003

Help Southerners prepare for winter

January 26, 2003


My mom has moved here from Georgia to live with us. This will be her first Kansas winter. Are there some things we need to be more aware of because we have a senior living in our home?

Great question -- and it gives me a chance to remind all senior readers that winter deserves respect here in the Midwest. Here are some reminders that will be helpful to your family this winter:

  • Hypothermia is a real risk in older adults -- slower metabolism and less physical activity make them more susceptible to hypothermia (a drop in body temperature to 95 degrees (F) or less. The inside thermostat should be set no lower than 68 degrees. Hypothermia can develop over a few days or weeks of cool indoor temperatures. Signs of hypothermia include confusion, drowsiness, slurred speech, blue hue to skin, excessive shivering.
  • Dress in layers of loose-fitting, lightweight clothing. When your mom goes outdoors, encourage her to cover her mouth with a scarf to protect lungs from cold air. A hat is a must outside -- and may not be a bad idea inside as well. Keep sweaters and lap throws handy for added indoor warmth.
  • Dehydration is also a winter danger for older individuals. Winter indoor climates tend to be dry. Dehydration can cause mental confusion and contribute to a "stressed-out" feeling. In cold weather, soups can help meet the body's need for fluids as well as provide warmth for the body. Of course, encourage her to drink plenty of water -- but to go easy on alcohol or caffeinated drinks that restrict blood flow.
  • Stay as active as possible. Encourage your mom to exercise at home with some stretching and lifting movements. Maybe this would be a good time to instigate family mall-walking. Exercise improves the appetite and produces body heat.
  • Make sure your smoke detectors are in working order. December through February is the peak fire period. A residential blaze strikes in America every 85 seconds.
  • Humidify the air. Winter air is dry and can cause nosebleeds and respiratory problems. A humidifier can help, but be sure to clean it regularly.
  • Be extra careful of icy sidewalks and streets. Your mom should wear shoes or boots that have rubber treads.
  • Check your hot water heater temperature. Set the temperature to 120 degrees or lower. As people age, their sense of touch declines and the chance of scalding from hot water increases.

Your mom will adjust to the Kansas winter -- maybe it will be a mild one. Your family will just have to be a little more careful indoors and out.

-- If you have a question or comment for "Sense for Seniors," write to Betty Gibb, Kansas Senior Press Service, 11875 S. Sunset, Suite 200, Olathe, KS 66061. Telephone: 913-477-8103; e-mail:

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