Winter weather emergencies can be difficult for many older Kentuckians. Senior citizens should consider safety concerns, including falling, hypothermia and frost bite, before venturing out in bad weather.
Many seniors have medical conditions that require treatment. They may run low on medicine or have no way to get to their family doctor. In the event of a medical emergency, call 911 first. Some pharmacies may deliver medications, even in bad weather. Call your pharmacist or physician with questions about medications.
When ice and snow is on the ground, older adults who go outside should practice extreme caution. Roads, sidewalks and steps could be slick and hazardous. If you have to venture outdoors, try to avoid walking on icy or snow covered sidewalks. Wear boots with non-skid soles and keep your driveway, sidewalks and front steps shoveled and salted to help prevent falls. Those with a heart condition, osteoporosis or trouble with balance may want to hire someone to shovel for them as these conditions can be aggravated by overexertion.
If you have to drive, make sure your car is winterized with antifreeze, good tires and windshield wipers. Check weather reports before leaving and try to avoid icy roads, overpasses and bridges. Drive slow and with extreme caution. If you have a cell phone, take it with you and be sure to tell a family member or neighbor where you are going.
Carry emergency supplies, including a first aid kit, blankets, extra clothes, boots, windshield scrapers, sandbags, jumper cables, water, dried food and a flashlight. If possible, avoid driving altogether and rely on a family member, friend or neighbor to help you.
Extremely cold temperatures increase the chances of hypothermia and frost bite. Know the warning signs. Warning signs of hypothermia include shivering; cold, pale or ashy skin; feeling tired, confused or sleepy; feeling weak; problems walking; slowed breathing or heart rate.
Frost bite warning signs include discolored skin including red, white, ashy or grayish-yellow. The skin may also feel waxy or numb. If you experience any of these conditions, seek medical attention immediately.
It is best for older adults to stay indoors at a temperature of at least 65 degrees, but if you must go outside, be sure to wear several loose-fitting layers of thin clothing along with a hat, gloves, coat, boots and scarf, and do not stay in the cold or wind for very long. Shivering is a warning sign the body is losing heat. If you start to shiver, go inside!
Keeping warm inside the house can be hazardous too. Fireplaces and wood and gas stoves must be properly ventilated to prevent dangerous amounts of carbon monoxide, a deadly gas that cannot be seen or smelled, from leaking.
Kerosene and electric heaters are also potential fire hazards. Be sure smoke and carbon monoxide detectors work properly, and have your fireplace and wood stove chimneys inspected. Crack a window when using a kerosene heater, and keep space heaters at least 3 feet away from objects. Keep a working fire extinguisher in the home, and never heat a home with a gas stove, charcoal grill, or other item not intended for home heating.
Winter weather can be extremely hazardous and challenging for older adults. Community members, neighbors and loved ones should be sensitive to their needs, especially if their area loses electricity.
More information on handling winter weather emergencies is available at the Harlan County Cooperative Extension Service.