Winter is a special time for celebration. It should also be a time for added caution if you or someone in your family is an older adult. It is the season for falls, slips on icy streets, and other dangers that can be especially harmful for older adults.
Here are some important reminders for mature adults regarding health and safety during winter:
* The flu. Influenza is a serious illness that can be fatal in older adults, who often have chronic medical conditions. The vaccine offers some, if not complete, protection against the flu and can be administered as early as September. The flu season begins in mid-October and runs through March.
* Hypothermia. Keep your thermostat set to at least 65 degrees to prevent hypothermia. Hypothermia kills about 600 Americans every year, half of whom are 65 or older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also, keeping the temperature at 65, even when you are not at home, will help prevent freezing pipes by maintaining a high-enough temperature within your walls.
*Icy streets. Navigating through icy streets can be intimidating. Wear comfortable shoes with anti-slip soles. If you use a cane, replace the rubber tip before it is worn smooth and becomes slippery on the wet ice.
*House fires. Make sure your smoke alarms are working. If you live in a house rather than an apartment, you should also have carbon-monoxide alarms.
*Falling in the home. Older people often have difficulty adjusting to changes in light, and high contrasts increase the risk of slip and falls. Make sure there are no great lighting contrasts from one room to another. Also, use night lights, and don’t have loose extension cords lying around — tape them to the floor. Make sure rugs are not wrinkled or torn in a way that can trip you up as you walk.
*Strenuous activities. Try to avoid strenuous activities like shoveling snow. If you must use a shovel this winter, warm up your body with a few stretching exercises before you begin and be sure to take frequent breaks throughout.
*Dehydration. Drink at least four or five glasses of fluid every day. This should not change just because it is winter. While you may not feel as thirsty as you do in the summer months, if you are older than 60 your body can dehydrate quicker, putting you at greater risk for colds, arthritis, kidney stones and even heart disease.
*Winter itch. Wear more protective creams and lotions to prevent the dry and itchy skin commonly experienced in the colder months when humidity levels are lower.
*Home emergencies. For older persons living alone, it is a good idea to have a personal emergency response system — a device worn around the neck or on a bracelet, that can summon help if needed. Wear this device all the time, and use it.
Important Flu Recommendations for High-Risk Populations
The flu season is fast approaching and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends immunization to include all people 6 months of age and older. Those at highest risk of complications from the flu are still young children; people 65 and older; pregnant women; and people with health conditions such as heart, lung or kidney disease, or a weakened immune system.
Here are some guidelines to help parents protect their children and their entire families from catching the flu this winter:
*Get vaccinated early. The flu vaccine is most effective when administered during the fall months, before the onset of flu season, which usually reaches its peak in early December.
*It’s never too late. The flu season begins in the fall and can last through the spring, so if you do not get vaccinated in October you can still be immunized in December or January.
*Know your options. A nasal vaccine is available for healthy children from age 2 and over, and for adults up to the age of 49. There are some restrictions so check with your doctor first.
Breathe Easier! Preparing Your Family for Winter Allergies
The end of the pollinating season is good news for everyone with hay fever and similar summer allergies, but those who are sensitive to mold spores may have to wait until the first frost to find relief.
“The cold season can be especially difficult for those who suffer from a combination of indoor allergies and asthma. During the winter, families spend more time indoors, exposing them to irritants like dust mites, pet dander, smoke, household sprays and chemicals, and gas fumes — any of which can make their lives miserable.” – Dr. Elizabeth Leef Jacobson internist NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital
Dr. David J. Resnick, director of allergy and immunology at the same medical institution and Dr. Jacobson offer these tips:
1. Keep your indoor humidity level below 35 percent to help prevent the growth of mold and mites.
2. Use exhaust fans when showering or cooking to remove excess humidity and odors. Avoid putting rugs in the bedroom, if possible, since wall-to-wall carpeting is an ideal place for dust mites to proliferate. Using a HEPA vacuum may also decrease dust mite and pet allergen levels.
3. Replace your furnace filter every two to three months, use high-efficiency filters that can capture up to 30 times more allergens, and make sure your furnace fan is always on.
4. When outdoors, keep children from playing in areas that promote mold growth, such as dark, wooded areas. Also, ensure both children and adult allergy sufferers wash their hands frequently and avoid touching their face, as this decreases exposure to the common winter viruses.
5. Use dust-proof covers for mattresses, box springs and pillows to decrease exposure to allergens, but consult your allergist before undertaking such an expense.
6. Wash bed linens and nightclothes in hot water (above 130 degrees) to kill dust mites.
7. If you must use a humidifier, keep it clean and change the water frequently to avoid contamination by mold and bacteria. Central humidifiers should be sprayed with an anti-mold agent.
8. Don’t put plants in the bedroom, since decaying leaves and increased humidity can stimulate growth of mold.
9. Adults and children allergic to household pets (dogs and cats) should minimize their contact with them. If you cannot remove the pets from the household, keep them out of the bedroom at all times.
10. Do not exercise in the cold air if you have cold-sensitive asthma. Choose indoor exercises like swimming, as warm humid air is easier on the airways.
11. Remove all dust from your holiday decorations and tree. If you buy a real tree, spray it with a garden hose before setting up in the house.
Crowded, bustling malls, repeated trips to the airport to fetch long-lost relatives, and the constant shuffling of cookies and turkey out of your oven can translate into one reaction: stress. Christmas may be the season of love and celebration, but sometimes holiday festivities can become overwhelming.
The following is the holiday feast survival guide — a road map of sorts to keep you and your diet from straying too far this year.
* Never go to a party hungry. Snack on fruit, non-fat yogurt or vegetables before you leave for the party. You will be less tempted to overindulge while you’re there.
* Take control of your environment whenever possible. Never engage in conversation while sitting next to a platter of your favorite cookies. Grab a bottle or glass of water as soon as you arrive at a holiday gathering and take a few minutes to survey your food choices.
* Bring a low-fat dish to the party. Share with other guests.
* Fill your plate with vegetables and lean protein foods — then add small “tastes” of high-fat dishes.
* Eat slowly and savor every bite. It takes 20 minutes for the stomach to signal to your brain that you are full.
* Decide in advance how you will handle gifts of cookies and candy. Don’t leave them out in the open so that you will be tempted to binge. Keep one or two and give the rest away.
* Limit alcohol consumption. Not only does alcohol contain many calories, but it can also stimulate your appetite and reduce your willpower. Try a wine spritzer, or, better yet, avoid alcohol completely and drink seltzer or mineral water with a twist of lime, or a non-alcoholic tomato juice cocktail.
* Don’t allow holiday activity to slow down your exercise program. Exercise can help burn off extra calories and make you feel good about yourself.
* Moderation is the key to weight maintenance. A forkful of cheesecake will do less damage than a whole piece. Remember, an occasional indulgence will not destroy your weight-loss attempts, and if you don’t love something don’t eat it.