CLEVELAND – Bitter cold temperatures can be miserable for most of us, but for the elderly, the cold can bring extra challenges.
According to Ronan Factora, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic, for older people and those who have heart conditions, doing work that requires a great deal of effort, like shoveling snow, can put a lot of strain on the body.
“If you’re going to be going out in the cold, make sure that you have the right level of health in order for you to exert your body to do those jobs,” said Dr. Factora. “If not, that’s the time for you to go and get help.”
Dr. Factora said in addition to over-exerting our hearts, as we age, working outside in the cold can cause muscle strains and make arthritis symptoms worse, especially for those who are not used to that level of work.
He said it’s a good idea to use our best judgment about our personal fitness levels and don’t be embarrassed to wait for someone to come and help before trying to tackle an outdoor job alone.
Dr. Factora added that when we get older, it becomes harder for our bodies to regulate temperature, as a decrease in muscle mass makes the body less able to generate heat.
Other factors, such as medications, can also prevent the body from staying warm.
Dr. Factora said it’s best to stay bundled up when heading outdoors, and keep the thermostat at a comfortable temperature when staying indoors during colder months.
“Stay bundled up, keep warm and wear gloves,” he said. “Extra layers are good for you because you have to be able to maintain that core body temperature so that you don’t feel cold. You shouldn’t be ashamed to wear more layers to keep yourself comfortable.”
Dr. Factora said it’s vital to be prepared for cold snaps by making sure things are working well around the house, especially the furnace and hot water heater.
“You want to make sure that your home is well-heated, well-insulated and you want to make sure that the furnace is working,” he said. “There are dangers with using small space heaters or gas heaters with regards to carbon monoxide poisoning and fire risk. Be sure to use these items appropriately, with appropriate ventilation and working carbon monoxide alarms within your home.”