The weather forecast for this week predicts extremely cold temperatures with record low windchill temperatures and it is important to plan ahead in order to stay safe during the extreme cold, especially for the elderly. When temperatures drop below zero, frostbite can occur within 5-10 minutes to any exposed areas of skin. This is especially dangerous for the elderly who already make less body heat due to decreased activity levels and slower metabolism rates and those with dementia who may not recognize temperature extremes, be able to dress appropriately or communicate any distress. It is best to stay inside, but if you do have to go out in the cold, limit the time that you are exposed to the cold weather. The following are tips from the Centers for Disease Control on how to prepare and survive in extreme cold.
It is important to plan ahead as much as possible. Go to the grocery store and stock up on non-perishable food items like bread, crackers, cereal, etc. that do not have to be heated up to consume in case the power goes out. Make sure you have a good supply of any medications on hand. You should also have an ample supply of bottled water in case the pipes freeze. Make sure you have flashlights with new batteries ready and blankets that are readily available. Be sure to repeatedly check the thermostat and make sure the house is not getting too cold. Open all faucets slightly to prevent pipes from freezing.
To keep your house warm, it helps to close off any unused rooms and put a barrier under those doors to limit any drafts. If you need to use space heaters, it is vital that you have a working smoke detector and a carbon monoxide alarm. Make sure you place the space heater away from any drapes, blankets, or furniture that may be flammable and in a safe area that it will not be knocked over. The CDC recommends placing space heaters at least 3 feet away from flammable objects and do not use extension cords to plug them in as that will add an additional tripping hazard. Do not leave children or anyone with dementia unsupervised in a room with a space heater to prevent accidental fires or burns.
If you do have to travel, make sure your car has a full tank of gas, so the fuel line does not freeze up and plenty of supplies in case your car breaks down. It is recommended to have a blanket, extra food and water and a fully charged cell phone to call for help if need be. Also, make sure to check your tire pressure, as tire pressure can drop 5 psi in extreme cold. Cover all exposed areas by wearing a hat, gloves, scarf, and warm boots. Dress in layers with your outer layer containing a wind resistant material to limit body-heat loss and an inner layer of wool, silk, or polypropylene material.
It is important to know the signs and symptom of hypothermia and frostbite so you can seek medical attention immediately. Warning signs of hypothermia include: shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech, and drowsiness. Early signs of frostbite include: a white or grayish-yellow skin area, skin that feels unusually firm or waxy, and numbness. An individual with memory impairment needs to be monitored closely as they may already have confusion and memory loss and they could possibly wander out of the house without the proper clothing for the elements.
The more you prepare, the safer you will be if any extreme weather disaster arises.
The following sources were referenced for this article and contain additional helpful information: