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.