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Shaking the chill:Local doctors give seniors tips on staying warm

North Texans are feeling the chill now that the unusually warm temperatures are gone and the frigid winter temperatures are beginning to set in. While younger residents are able to handle the cold, seniors can run into trouble if they fail to stay warm.

“They (seniors) have less ability to handle the cold, they have less reserve, and they are more prone to hypothermia. They need to stay in a warm environment,” said Dr. Phillip Disraeli with Baylor Family Medicine in Carrollton.

Dr. Filippo Masciarelli, hospitalist at Medical City Denton, said seniors who have long-term illnesses or other medical conditions are more prone to hypothermia.

“If we have an older person who has a problem with circulation, it’s easier to get frostbite or a cold injury,” he said. “If people have certain conditions like diabetes that affect their ability to feel things, they can also get frostbite or cold injury much more readily.”

Being aware of the cold can also be a problem for seniors. For example, when a younger person gets cold, their body will shiver to maintain a warm temperature. Masciarelli said many seniors lose their ability to shiver, making it harder for them to tell when they’ve been exposed to the cold for too long. Medications and even poor mental health can keep a person from noticing a change in their body temperature. If a person is diabetic, they will have to check their body parts, like the feet, for signs of hypothermia.

Staying in a warm environment is important for senior health during the winter months. Disraeli suggests staying covered and to keep moving to maintain the proper body temperature.

“Having a warm cap on, wearing some gloves or socks can help them,” he said. “They should stay active, move around and drink warm liquids like tea.”

Masciarelli said seniors should be careful not to set their heating units at too high a temperature. He suggests the temperature to set around 70 to 72 degrees. Anything higher can lead to dry air and can cause breathing problems. He also suggests dressing in layers. Putting on two or three sweaters and wearing two pairs of socks will help the body control its internal temperature.

Both Disraeli and Masciarelli caution people about using alternative heat sources like space heaters or gas stoves and ovens for warmth. Heat from a gas oven or improper use of a space heater can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Nearby relatives should frequently check on seniors who have long-term medical issues. Because of their conditions, they may not realize how the cold is affecting their bodies.  

“Main thing that’s important is to look in on folks,” Masciarelli said. “The general idea is if people have underlying medical conditions, those are the ones who need to be watched.”

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