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As cold winter weather looms, seniors can stay warm

By Daniel Nash

The Courier-Herald

As winter’s chill sets in, everyone needs to spend more time bundling up before leaving their homes. But the elderly especially must take care to stay warm during the winter.

Brian Fox, a doctor of osteopathic medicine with an Auburn Regional practice in Bonney Lake, shared his expertise on the effects of cold weather on seniors and what they can do to stay warm and safe. A number of personal factors can affect what action an individual must take to keep warm, so it is recommended that anyone with concerns consult a physician.

“It’s especially important for seniors to dress warmly,” Fox said. “Seniors tend to lose more heat from their bodies because their body fat tends to be lower.”

This affects a number of the things seniors must do to stay warm. It’s important for seniors to take in more calories, because more energy and heat is expended by the body. These calories should typically be in the form of complex carbohydrates, because they are processed by the body faster than fats and proteins. However, this is not recommended for those with diabetics.

Blood circulation is also a factor in staying warm.

“In the cold, to conserve body heat, the body pulls blood flow to the core to conserve heat,” Fox said. “Because of seniors’ lower body fat, they can develop frostbite and circulation problems, especially if they don’t cover their extremities.”

This movement of blood to the core can make it more difficult to warm outside air on its way to the lungs. Cold air already tends to be drier than air in other seasons, so this warming becomes necessary. Therefore, prolonged exposure to winter air can cause respiratory problems even in people with no preexisting issues like asthma or smoking.

Chronic medical issues like high blood pressure can create additional dangers. Once a person enters the cold, blood pressure will take a large spike. But as a person spends more time outside, blood pressure will fall severely as the effects of hypothermia set in.

Even within the home it is important to be prepared. Everyone, not just seniors, should keep candles, a flashlight with fresh batteries, a manual can opener and food in case the power goes out due to snow, Fox said.

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