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Jed Boal ReportingAs the temperatures plunge, thousands of elderly members of our communities may not get the kind of assistance and attention they need, but there is help for those who need it.
More than 100-thousand seniors live in Salt Lake County. Winter presents greater hazards for many of them than it does for most of us. Now is a good time to make sure they're getting the help they need.
Stephanie Woody is a true friend for many seniors in Salt Lake County. As a case worker for County Aging Services, she helps seniors like Ruth Searle sort out assistance for which they qualify. Woody also keeps a close eye on the thermometer.
Stephanie Woody, Aging Services Case Manager: "Hypothermia, where your temperature would dip below normal, that's kind of a hazardous condition for older people."
At 96 Ruth Searle still lives on her own; she's lived in her home more than 70 years. Searle craves her independence, but is grateful for kindness as Woody helps her sort through bills, reminds her to get a flu shot, and shares a few laughs.
Stephanie Woody: "I couldn't ask for anything better."
Today she's helping Searle fill out her application for HEAT, Home Energy Assistance Target. It's federal assistance to soften the blow of rising energy costs.
Stephanie Woody: "Some people won't use their heat because of the cost, especially if it's electric, that seems to be more expensive."
The price of heat this year will create some tough choices for many people.
Stephanie Woody: "They've got a toss up between food, medication, heating bill. And if you're on a fixed income like Ruth, that's a difficult choice from time to time."
Between Meals on Wheels and the Alternatives Program,the county regularly checks on more than 15-hundred people. Each county in the state offers aging services.
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For the more than 111,000 seniors 60 years of age and older in Salt Lake County, winter can pose many hazards. Icy sidewalks, cool, dry air and the cold and flu viruses pose risks to older adults who are susceptible to illness and accidents during this time.
Fortunately, by taking a few precautions, seniors can enjoy winter safely and securely. Older adults are more susceptible to loss of body heat or hypothermia. To protect against the illnesses that can result, follow these tips:
- When outdoors, remember to dress warmly. Wear loose-fitting, layered, lightweight clothing. Mittens are warmer than gloves because fingers generate warmth when they touch each other. Always wear a hat to protect against heat loss since about 30 to 50 percent of body heat loss is through the head.
- Caulking or plastic sheets can protect windows and keep warm air in - also minimizing energy bills.
- Keep your thermostat set to 65 degrees to prevent hypothermia. Also, when the temperature remains at 65, even when you are not at home, you can help to prevent freezing pipes by maintaining a high enough temperature within your walls.
- Make sure smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors work. CO is a potentially dangerous gas emitted by fuel-burning heaters and appliances. Seniors' bodies can't eliminate CO as quickly as younger adults.
- Outdoor winter tasks such as shoveling snow take more energy than many seniors think, especially because cold weather puts an added strain on the heart. If you go out to shovel snow, do a few stretching exercises to warm up your body. Also, take frequent breaks.
- Protect your skin with heavier, more protective creams and lotions. In the winter the relative humidity inside drops to below 60 percent causing skin to lose moisture. This can cause the dryness and itching that bothers many older adults.
- Even though the summer heat is gone, make sure that you still drink at least six to eight glasses of liquid a day, especially in dry cold weather, to avoid dehydration. Drinking plenty of water can also help prevent dry skin problems.
- To avoid slips and falls, wear boots that are non-skid.
- If you use a cane, replace the rubber tip before it is worn smooth or it will become slippery, especially when it gets wet.
- If you need to get somewhere in winter weather, make sure that your car has been tuned up and has good tires. Also, keep your gas tank near full and let family or friends know your travel plans including routes and times.
- When cold weather and large amounts of snow hit, take the time to check on neighbors who are elderly.
- Get a flu-shot.