NC storm takes toll on older people, services

tgoldsmith@newsobserver.comFebruary 14, 2014 

  • Tips to prevent hypothermia

    • Wear several layers of loose clothing to trap warm air between them.

    • Outside, wear a hat, scarf, gloves or mittens, and warm clothes.

    • At home, wear long underwear, along with socks and slippers. A blanket or afghan will keep legs and shoulders warm.

    • Set thermostat to at least 68 to 70 degrees. Homes with temperatures from 60 to 65 degrees can trigger hypothermia in older people.

    • Check with medical professionals to see whether any prescribed or over-the-counter medications may increase risks of hypothermia.

    Source: National Institute on Aging

    Tips for staying safe

    • Be careful when using supplemental heating units. Make sure all combustible materials, such as drapes or chairs, are at least 3 feet away from any heating unit.

    • Avoid using propane heaters inside or flammable liquids to start fireplaces, and do not leave a fireplace unattended. Check smoke detectors to make sure they are working properly.

    • If possible, bring outside pets indoors during cold snaps, especially at night, when temperatures dip to their lowest.

    • Check in on neighbors and family members who may be more susceptible to cold weather conditions, such as the elderly or disabled.

    • Do not attempt to deal with downed limbs or trees on a street or sidewalk on your own since they may be tangled in live power lines.

    • Report downed wires to your utility company.

    • To prepare for a power outage, have plenty of fresh batteries for flashlights and radios.

    • If you have a gasoline-powered electric generator, use it in well-ventilated areas, and only plug in individual appliances. Never connect a generator to a wall outlet. Be sure to have adequate fuel for your generator, and manage consumption by running it for only a few hours at a time.

    Sources: N.C. Department of Transportation; city of Raleigh; town of Cary; Duke Energy

— In extreme weather, both older people and those who look after them can face risk.

Alan Winstead, executive director of Meals on Wheels of Wake County, said that during big storms, the agency sidelines the 125 to 150 volunteers who typically take meals to older people throughout Wake County.

In addition, the nonprofit follows the practice of checking on anyone who is at special risk from low temperature and possible power outages. The Meals on Wheels staff has a list of people to call, typically those who live alone and don’t have a strong local support network.

Older people at risk for hypothermia, in which body temperature drops below normal for prolonged periods. Their bodies’ response to cold can be diminished by illnesses such as diabetes and by some medicines, according to the National Institutes of Health. Older people may be less active and generate less body heat.

“Fumbling, mumbling, stumbling or grumbling” are signs of hypothermia.

“If there’s somebody in your neighborhood who you know lives alone, just check on them and make sure they are OK,” Winstead said.

The National Institutes of Health suggest taking the temperature of someone who may be suffering from the cold. If the person’s temperature is 96 or lower, call 911.

Goldsmith: 919-829-8929

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