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General Information... Cold Weather Safety Tips by Talbot County Emergency Services (DES) on Monday, January 6, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

MEDIA CONTACT: Clay Stamp, 410-770-8160

“Take Precautions during Cold Weather”

Talbot County Department of Emergency Services along with our response partners would like to remind our residents of the importance of taking cold weather safety steps during the current weather conditions as well as throughout the winter months.

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, hypothermia causes about 600 deaths every year in the United States. About half of those deaths occur in people age 65 and older. Mr. Clay Stamp, Talbot DES Director, “During periods of cold weather take the opportunity to check in on the elderly, when venturing out remember to let someone know where you are going, and if you have one keep a cell phone with you at all times.”

Hypothermia also is a real risk... Mild hypothermia may cause confusion and poor judgment about their condition; moderate hypothermia can lead to loss of consciousness, inability to shiver and irregular cardiac rhythm; and severe hypothermia can progress through unconsciousness, ventricular fibrillation, cardiac arrest and death. Kathy Foster, Talbot County Public Health Officer “If you have limited mobility please use extra caution with regard to slipping and falling when going outside, and if possible carry a portable phone with you”. Kathy Foster also stressed that portable alert systems are available for the elderly and for further information persons can call the Talbot County Health Department.

Cold Weather Tips:

  • With cold temperatures, family members, neighbors and friends should keep the County‚Äôs elderly residents on their “to-do” list. Plan a quick phone call first thing in the morning and call periodically during extreme cold periods to check their welfare.
  • Try and dress in layers and use blankets to help maintain body temperatures and footwear and hand coverage is critical if the elderly venture out in the cold because their toes and fingers can easily suffer frost bite.
  • Make sure the heating system is on and if possible keep thermostats on 65 degrees or higher.
  • Make sure portable heaters have proper ventilation and maintain a working CO monitor and Smoke Detector
  • Limit activities outside and if you must venture outside take a portable phone or advise a neighbor
  • Be Aware of Warning Signs of Hypothermia
  • The telephone call gives you the opportunity to encourage the elderly not to go outdoors or tackle any activities such as clearing walk or shoveling snow that could be dangerous.
  • Drink adequate amounts of liquids, such as water. Limit your alcohol intake because alcohol speeds up body heat loss.

Cold Stress (Hypothermia)

Much like high blood pressure, hypothermia can be called a “silent killer” in the sense that many of its victims are not aware of the threat. In the case of hypothermia, elderly persons may not be aware they are becoming cold as readily as younger people, and their bodies may not adjust to changes in temperature.

Hypothermia (literally “low-heat”) is a condition marked by an abnormally low internal body temperature. It develops when body heat is lost to a cool or cold environment faster than it can be replaced. Temperatures do not have to be below freezing for hypothermia to occur, especially in vulnerable individuals. Many older adults can develop a low body temperature after exposure to conditions of mild cold, which would only produce discomfort in younger people.

Who Is At Risk?

Although older adults are more vulnerable to hypothermia than younger members of the population, infants under one year are also particularly susceptible. Among the elderly, those most likely to develop hypothermia are the sick, the frail, the very old, the poor who can't afford enough heat, and those medically vulnerable individuals who do not know how to keep warm when exposed to the cold.

Others who are susceptible include individuals who (1) live alone or in isolated areas (particularly if they don't have access to nearby phones to reach help in case of accident or illness); (2) do not shiver or react to cold; and (3) take certain medications that prevent the body from regulating temperatures normally, such as anti-depressants, sedatives, tranquilizers, and cardiovascular drugs. Drugs deserve special mention because they are thought to be a major predisposing factor to hypothermia in older adults, who, while comprising little more than 10 percent of the population, consume 25 percent of the nation's prescription drugs. Check with a doctor or pharmacist for information on other drugs that increase susceptibility to hypothermia.

What You Can Do?

To avoid being harmed by hypothermia, now that cold weather has come to many parts of the United States, here is some practical advice:

  • If you live alone, arrange for a daily check-in call with a friend, neighbor, relative, etc.
  • Insulate your home properly. Caulking is a particularly low-cost and effective technique.
  • Wear warm clothing. Instead of tight clothing, wear several loose, warm layers. Wear a hat and scarf to avoid significant heat loss through your head and neck. Stay dry. Moisture from perspiration, rain, or melting snow can seriously reduce or destroy the insulating value of clothing because water conducts body heat over 25 times faster than air.
  • Use extra blankets because hypothermia can develop during sleep.
  • Eat nutritious foods and exercise moderately; proper diet and physical conditioning help protect you against abnormal heat and cold.
  • Get proper rest; fatigue makes you more vulnerable to subnormal heat and cold.
  • Drink adequate amounts of liquids, such as water. Limit your alcohol intake because alcohol speeds up body heat loss.

What to Look For?

Some people die of hypothermia because they or those around them do not recognize the symptoms. Here are some signs to watch for:

  • Muscles: The muscles are often unusually stiff, particularly in the neck, arms, and legs. This stiffness may be accompanied by a fine trembling, perhaps limited to only one side of the body or one arm or leg.
  • Shivering: Shivering is a sign that the body is having trouble keeping warm. The shivering response is frequently diminished or absent in older adults, and the fact that an older person is not shivering in a cool or cold environment does not GUARANTEE that the person is not cold.
  • Face: The face is frequently puffy or swollen, and this can be an important sign, especially when found in combination with cold skin and signs of confusion.
  • Coordination: The person often has difficulty walking and has problems with balance. Look for poor coordination and jerky movements.
  • Breathing and Heart Rate: Both are slowed at low body temperatures, and may be very difficult to detect in severe hypothermia. .
  • Skin: The skin is cool or cold. Pay special attention to the stomach, lower back, arms, legs, hands, and feet. The skin color is usually very pale, but it may also have large, irregular blue or pink spots.
  • Consciousness: As the body cools, consciousness is depressed. Some hypothermia victims will still be conscious when their body temperatures are as low as 80 degrees. Remember, though, that “conscious” and “mental clarity” are two different things. A person can be “conscious and reactive” and yet still be in a confused, disoriented, and hypothermic state, so the level of consciousness is not always a reliable indicator of the victim's condition.
  • Confusion: One of the first changes brought on by hypothermia is a growing mental confusion, which becomes progressively worse as body temperature falls. Logical thinking becomes impossible and the person may become completely disoriented. Memory is affected and familiar things are often forgotten.
  • Attitude: Apathy is common. Often the person doesn't care what happens and will do nothing to help reduce the danger; he or she may behave strangely, or become irritable, hostile, mean, and aggressive.

What to Do?

If you believe someone may be a victim of hypothermia, call 9-1-1 immediately. Hypothermia is a dangerous, complicated medical problem and the victim needs professional attention. However, before help arrives, here are some suggestions:

  • Be very careful in handling the person. Failure to do so can cause sudden death because the heart is very weak when the body is cold.
  • Insulate the victim with available covering such as blankets, towels, pillows, scarves or newspapers.
  • Some steps can worsen a victim's condition:
    • Do not attempt to re-warm the victim at home. Hot baths, electric blankets, and hot water bottles can be dangerous.
    • Do not give the victim any food or drink.
    • If the victim is unconscious, do not raise the feet. This will cause blood from the legs to flow into the body “core” and further depress the body temperature.

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