NC storm takes toll on older people, services

tgoldsmith@newsobserver.comFebruary 12, 2014 

  • Tips for staying safe

    On the road:

    • Clear windows and mirrors before getting started.

    • Reduce speed and leave plenty of room between you and other vehicles.

    • Approach bridges and overpasses with caution, and do not apply your brakes while on a bridge unless necessary.

    • Anticipate black ice. Watch for thin sheets of ice that may appear as wet pavement. Often ice will appear in the morning, in shady spots or anywhere melted snow refreezes at night.

    • If you begin to slide, take your foot off the gas and turn the steering wheel in the direction of the slide. Do not apply the brakes, as that will cause further loss of control of the car.

    • Come to a complete stop or yield the right of way when approaching an intersection in case any drivers coming from other directions lose control while trying to stop.

    • If you have a cellphone, take it with you. You can contact the Highway Patrol statewide by calling *HP (*47) or call local law enforcement by dialing 911. But don’t call 911 to check on road conditions.

    At home:

    • Be careful when using supplemental heating units. Make sure all combustible materials, such as drapes or chairs, are at least 3 feet away from any heating unit.

    • Avoid using propane heaters inside or flammable liquids to start fireplaces, and do not leave a fireplace unattended. Check smoke detectors to make sure they are working properly.

    • If possible, bring outside pets indoors during cold snaps, especially at night when temperatures dip to their lowest.

    • Check in on neighbors and family members who may be more susceptible to cold weather conditions, such as the elderly or disabled.

    • Do not attempt to deal with downed limbs or trees on a street or sidewalk on your own since they may be tangled in live power lines.

    • Report downed wires to your utility company.

    • To prepare for a power outage, have plenty of fresh batteries for flashlights and radios.

    • If you have a gasoline-powered electric generator, use it in well-ventilated areas and only plug in individual appliances. Never connect a generator to a wall outlet. Be sure to have adequate fuel for your generator, and manage consumption by running it for only a few hours at a time.

    Sources: N.C. Department of Transportation; city of Raleigh; town of Cary; Duke Energy

  • Tips to prevent hypothermia

    • Wear several layers of loose clothing to trap warm air between them.

    • Outside, wear a hat, scarf, gloves or mittens, and warm clothes.

    • At home, wear long underwear, along with socks and slippers. A blanket or afghan will keep legs and shoulders warm.

    • Set thermostat to at least 68 to 70 degrees. Homes with temperatures from 60 to 65 degrees can trigger hypothermia in older people.

    • Check with medical professionals to see whether any prescribed or over-the-counter medications may increase risks of hypothermia.

    Source: National Institute on Aging

    Tips for staying safe

    • Be careful when using supplemental heating units. Make sure all combustible materials, such as drapes or chairs, are at least 3 feet away from any heating unit.

    • Avoid using propane heaters inside or flammable liquids to start fireplaces, and do not leave a fireplace unattended. Check smoke detectors to make sure they are working properly.

    • If possible, bring outside pets indoors during cold snaps, especially at night, when temperatures dip to their lowest.

    • Check in on neighbors and family members who may be more susceptible to cold weather conditions, such as the elderly or disabled.

    • Do not attempt to deal with downed limbs or trees on a street or sidewalk on your own since they may be tangled in live power lines.

    • Report downed wires to your utility company.

    • To prepare for a power outage, have plenty of fresh batteries for flashlights and radios.

    • If you have a gasoline-powered electric generator, use it in well-ventilated areas, and only plug in individual appliances. Never connect a generator to a wall outlet. Be sure to have adequate fuel for your generator, and manage consumption by running it for only a few hours at a time.

    Sources: N.C. Department of Transportation; city of Raleigh; town of Cary; Duke Energy

— In extreme weather, both older people and those who look after them can face risk.

Alan Winstead, executive director of Meals on Wheels of Wake County, said that during big storms, the agency sidelines the 125 to 150 volunteers who typically take meals to older people throughout Wake County. Many of the volunteers are themselves older and could be endangered by driving to reach clients.

When Wake County schools shut down, so does Meals on Wheels. This week, in anticipation of the storm, the agency delivered extra food to the 1,000 people who get the service.

“We deliver a hot meal and a cold meal,” Winstead said. “We give them a box of soup and crackers and juice.”

In addition, the nonprofit follows the practice widely recommended by those who advocate for older people and those with disabilities – checking on anyone who is at special risk from low temperature and possible power outages. The Meals on Wheels staff has a list of people to call, typically those who live alone and don’t have a strong local support network.

Older people can be particularly vulnerable to drops in temperature and may exhibit symptoms different from those seen in younger people. That’s true with hypothermia, in which body temperature drops below normal for prolonged periods.

Older people are particularly at risk for hypothermia because their bodies’ response to cold can be diminished by illnesses such as diabetes and by some medicines, including over-the-counter cold remedies, according to the National Institutes of Health. In addition, older people may be less active and generate less body heat.

People with older friends or relations should check to see whether they are “fumbling, mumbling, stumbling or grumbling” – signs of hypothermia.

“If there’s somebody in your neighborhood who you know lives alone, just check on them and make sure they are OK,” Winstead said. “Perform some kind of checkup to replace that Meals on Wheels volunteer knocking on the door.”

The agency’s meal sites, typically at senior centers, will also close because they rely on public transportation that may not be available.

The National Institutes of Health suggest that caregivers take the temperature of someone who may be suffering from the cold. If the person’s temperature is 96 or lower, call 911.

Goldsmith: 919-829-8929

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