Tips To Stay Warm This Winter

This weather certainly reminds me of my childhood, growing up in Buffalo and experiencing the blizzard of 1977. My mother was stranded in Niagara Falls and my father stayed at our family pharmacy on the west side for a week while the National Guard delivered his medicines to people. Extreme cold temperatures and “white-outs” from blowing and drifting snow were normal winter happenings. The last few years, mild winter temperatures and snowfall has made many of us a little complacent about cold weather safety.

Many seniors who live in Western New York are smart. When the weather is bad and the temperature is below zero, they do not venture out. They know lifting heavy snow can put an extra strain on the heart so they hire someone to plow or get help from family and friends. However, this does not mean that seniors are totally safe from hypothermia and other health threats during the cold weather season.

As we age, we actually lose body heat a lot faster than when we were young and we are less aware of the cold. Hypothermia, or a drop in core body temperature below 95 degrees for an older person, can cause serious health problems in older adults affecting the heart, kidneys and liver. Hypothermia usually happens when we are outside too long in extremely cold temperatures, but what most people do not realize is it can also occur in a very cold house.

The National Institutes of Health has published a brochure on Cold Weather Safety for Older Adults. I was particularly struck by Bob’s story …“Vermont winters can be very cold. Last December, I wanted to save some money so I turned my heat down to 62∂F. I didn’t know that would put my health in danger. Luckily, my son Tyler came by to check on me. He saw that I was only wearing a light shirt and that my house was cold. Ty said I was speaking slowly, shivering, and having trouble walking. He wrapped me in a blanket and called 911. Turns out I had hypothermia. My son’s quick thinking saved my life. Now on cold days, I keep my heat at least at 68∂F and wear a sweater in the house.” This story could be anyone of us.

People who are sick or have certain chronic conditions may have special problems keeping warm. People who live alone are especially vulnerable to hypothermia because there is no one else to feel the chilliness of the house or notice if they are having symptoms of hypothermia. Make sure you dress warmly and follow these tips to keep warm while inside:

¯ Set your thermostat at 68∂F or higher. To save on heating bills, close doors and vents to unused rooms and place a rolled towel in front doors to keep out drafts.

¯ Keep your blinds and curtains closed to prevent drafts from windows.

¯ Wear socks and slippers, in addition to dressing warmly and keep a blanket handy to throw over your legs when sitting for long periods.

¯ When you go to sleep, wear long underwear and use extra covers. Wear a hat to bed so you don’t lose heat from your head.

¯ Make sure you eat enough food. People with low weight have less fat under their skin to keep them warm. If you are having trouble making meals, remember Meals on Wheels delivers all year long.

¯ Alcoholic drinks can actually make you lose more body heat by dilating your blood vessels so keep these to a minimum.

¯ If a power outage leaves you without heat, try to stay with a relative or friend or contact our office for assistance and a list of warming shelters.

If you decide to use a space heater be aware that some heater styles can be a fire hazard and others can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Never use a gas range to heat your house as this can also cause a build up of deadly carbon monoxide. If the power goes out and you are using a portable generator, these must be placed outside not in the garage, basement, or enclosed spaces. If you have a carbon monoxide detector please check the batteries and test that it is working properly. I hope family, friends, and neighbors will continue to check on the elderly during the cold winter months even if they are not venturing out to make sure they are staying warm and healthy. For more information on cold weather safety, generator safety, HEAP or any other topics mentioned in this article contact the NY Connects Helpline at 753-4582, 363-4582, or 661-7582. The full brochure on cold weather safety from the National Institutes of Health is posted on our FaceBook page, which you can find by going to and searching for “Chautauqua County Office for the Aging.”