New Round of Extreme Cold Puts Elderly at Risk

File:Snow branch ice.jpgWith a new, extreme round of cold weather upon us today and for the next few days, it’s critical to wear layers, stay warm, protect yourself against falls and injuries, and check in on elderly relatives, friends, and neighbors who may be at particular risk of cold-related health problems. Simple, quick steps can help you and others stay warm and safe in the current, life-threatening freeze.

Here’s what you need to know to stay safe:

  • Protect your skin. At temperatures of 15 to 30 below, exposed skin can get frostbitten in minutes. For older adults with reduced blood circulation or those improperly dressed, the risk is even higher.
  • Try not to stay outside more than 20 minutes. Wear a hat that comes down over your ears, protect your face and neck. Mittens are better than gloves, layers are best.
  • If you think you may have suffered frostbite, do not thaw using hot water or a heating pad. Use lukewarm water or your own body heat to thaw.  Seek medical attention.
  • Wear layers the right way. If you must go outside, wear layers to protect against heat loss and wetness. And don’t forget your hat.
  • Make sure your home is warm enough. Frigid weather can pose special risks to older people. Set the thermostat to at least 68 to 70 degrees. Make sure feet are kept warm
  • Protect against falls and injuries. With temperatures this low, the salt normally used to melt ice and snow on roads and sidewalks doesn’t work as well.
  • Warn your kids and grandkids. Younger folks, who may not understand the risks of these record temperatures, also need to be encouraged to take the necessary precautions.
  • Check on elderly neighbors or relatives to be sure they’re warm and safe. Don’t allow pets to stay outside except for short periods.

Study: RSV Often Milder than Flu in Older Adults

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) appears to cause milder illness than influenza in adults age 50 or older, according to researchers at Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation.

The study, published online in Clinical Infectious Diseases, also shows that Respiratory Syncytial Virus is a common cause of respiratory illness in older adults and that the chance of infection with RSV increases with age.

“RSV has long been known to cause serious respiratory illness in infants, but much less is known about the illnesses RSV causes in older adults,” said Dr. Edward Belongia, director of the Epidemiology Research Center at Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation (MCRF). “Knowing that adults’ susceptibility to RSV increases as they age is important for health care providers and public health officials to note as they treat and monitor respiratory illnesses this season.”

RSV is a common virus that causes infections of the lungs and breathing passages. The virus is thought to cause about 10 percent of winter hospitalizations for pneumonia in adults 65 and older. Most healthy people recover from RSV in one to two weeks, but for some infants, children and older adults, RSV causes serious illness. Most children have had RSV by age 2.

Study results suggest flu may cause more severe illness than RSV in older adults. That’s based on two key points:

  • People with RSV delayed seeking treatment after the onset of illness more than patients with flu.
  • Fewer RSV patients were hospitalized within 30 days compared to those with flu.

Symptoms of RSV are cold-like in most instances and include congested or runny nose, dry cough, low-grade fever, sore throat and headache. In severe cases, the contagious virus causes high fever, severe cough, wheezing, rapid breathing and bluish color of the skin due to lack of oxygen.

“Influenza gets a lot of attention this time of the year and for good reason – it’s a serious illness that affects thousands of people,” said MCRF epidemiologist Maria Sundaram, one of the study’s lead authors. “Although this study showed RSV may lead to fewer complications than flu, it still has the potential to cause serious respiratory illness, especially in older adults with weakened immune systems or other pre-existing conditions.”

Further work is needed to understand why older adults are more susceptible to RSV than other groups, MCRF researchers said. For the study, scientists including Dr. Jennifer Meece, director of MCRF’s Core Laboratory, studied nasal and throat swabs from patients age 50 and older recruited for influenza vaccine effectiveness studies from 2004-10. MedImmune, LLC, provided funding for this study.

Hiring In-Home Elder Care Help

Providing the primary care for an elder loved one can be difficult. When you cannot deliver all the elder care yourself and support from friends, family, and community organizations is not enough, it may be useful to hire a home health care worker. He or she can offer care from a few hours a week to 24 hours a day, and can provide many other helpful services. Types of in-home health care services include:

  • General Health Management like administration of medication or other medical treatments
  • Personal care such as bathing, oral hygiene, dressing, and shaving
  • Nutrition help like preparing meals, assisting eating, and grocery shopping
  • Homemaking services including laundry, dishwashing, and light housework
  • Companionship, such as reading to the senior or taking them on walks

Senior home care workers should be carefully screened for proper training, qualifications, and temperament. Fully discuss the needs of the elder care recipient during an interview with a prospective home health care employee.  There should be a written copy the job description and the type of experience you are looking for.

References should be checked out thoroughly.  Prospective employees should provide the employer with names, dates of employment, and phone numbers of previous employers and how to contact them. Make sure the person you are considering hiring knows how to carry out the tasks the elder care recipient requires, such as transferring the senior to and from a wheelchair or bed.

No one should be hired on a seven-day-a-week basis.  Even the most dedicated employee will soon burn out.  All employees need some time to take care of their personal needs.  No worker should be on call 24-hours a day.  If the elder care recipient needs frequent supervision or care during the night, a family member or second home health care worker should be able to help out or fill in.