Dr. John Bailey said most people who suffer from cold-related injuries fall into two categories — those who didn’t expect to be caught in those conditions but had no choice and those who didn’t — or couldn’t — make a good choice.
Bailey, a burn surgeon at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, said cold-related injuries are very similar to heat injuries and need to be treated with the same precaution. Special care may need to be taken when dealing with these two categories of people.
“Most people who are caught in the extremely cold conditions are not given the choice of being out in the cold,” he said. “They don’t have a choice — you think of someone who gets stranded (while driving) or a hiker who’s out and then the weather turns.”
He said prime candidates for those who don’t make good choices when it comes to the weather are younger ones and the elderly.
“You might have a younger person who’s out at a party, who’s maybe had too much to drink,” Bailey said. “They might go out and they get caught outside. You or I might realize, ‘Oh, it’s cold out here. I should probably not go outside.’ On the other hand, they may not realize it’s cold out. They could get stuck in the cold or for some reason may lock themselves out of the house and think, ‘Well, I’ll just wait outside until I can get in.’”
Such a decision could be deadly. A similar danger presents itself for the elderly, the doctor said.
“With people who didn’t make a good choice, you might think of the elderly person who has dementia or Alzheimer’s,” Bailey said. “That person doesn’t have a clear mind or isn’t able to reason that it’s too cold.”
Residents are encouraged to check on the elderly when temperatures dip so low and to keep an especially close eye on those who have a deteriorating mental status.
Besides making sure they’re OK, this also could involve checking in on seniors to make sure their homes have heat, the fridge is stocked and prescriptions are filled. It’s tough enough to cope with this weather, but seniors face even more danger. A quick visit to an elderly neighbor could save their life.
According to Syngergy HomeCare, nearly half of all hypothermia deaths happen to people over age 65. Many of these deaths can occur right in their own homes as seniors don’t feel the dip in degrees due to dementia or medication that can affect awareness.
Families caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s should take extra precautions to ensure he or she doesn’t wander outside in the frigid temperatures. Three out of five Alzheimer’s patients will wander at some point after their diagnosis.
Synergy HomeCare recommended the following precautions to families and caregivers:
• Use a permanent marker to write identification and contact information onto an Alzheimer or dementia patient’s clothes.
• Keep a recent photo and medical information on hand to share with police and other authorities should the person wander off.
• Consider a GPS tracking program specifically designed for Alzheimer’s patients, such as the Huron County Sheriff’s Office Project Lifesaver.
Seniors also should keep the following precautions in mind:
• If there is snow, don’t shovel. Seniors can more easily become injured. It is common for people to experience heart attacks exerting themselves shoveling snow.
• Seniors also run the risk of slipping and falling on ice, which could lead to a broken bone, so be extra careful and avoid going outside if at all possible.
• Don’t use an electric generator, camp stove or similar device indoors since they produce carbon monoxide — an odorless, colorless gas that builds up in closed spaces and is deadly.