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Winter months present unique challenges to senior citizens

by Lynette K. Miller

STAFF WRITER

CLARKSBURG -- Senior citizens must be more cautious than most during the colder months.

"As folks get older, their immune system fails just a bit and they are more susceptible to the flu and pneumonia," said Dr. Paul Davis.

Both Davis and Dr. Michael Hess strongly recommend that all seniors get flu shots each year and make sure their pneumonovax, a pneumonia vaccine, is current.

A failing immune system also means that it takes longer for the elderly to recover from these illnesses, said Dr. Miriam Camati.

Keeping the air humidified is crucial to seniors, Hess said. A low level of moisture in the air can cause a higher frequency of upper respiratory infections, he said.

Icy sidewalks and other surfaces present a greater danger for seniors, said Davis.

"Older bones break more easily, so slippery sidewalks and parking lots are to be avoided," he said.

Camati recommends that seniors use a walker or cane if necessary to maintain better balance. She explained that medication can often make seniors dizzy, which makes them more prone to falls.

Falls inside are just as common during winter months, said Hess.

"If you are spending more time indoors, it is important to fall-proof your house," he said. He suggests that seniors check for loose throw rugs and anything that could possibly create a hazard.

Seniors face an increased risk of hypothermia, according to Hess.

American Red Cross Health and Safety Director Karen Shuster said they should check to ensure their furnace is working properly.

Camati said that the elderly sometimes don't wear enough clothing in cold weather. It is important they bundle up enough to keep warm, she said.

Another danger is cabin fever, Hess said.

"I always tell my patients that if they need to remain inside to try and spend time by the window to get as much sunshine as possible," he added.

There is a disorder called seasonal affective disorder caused by lack of sun exposure that causes depressive symptoms, Hess said.

Heart attacks can come from the simple task of shoveling snow, Shuster said.

"Snow can be extremely heavy and most seniors don't realize they need to rest during the activity," she said.

It's not uncommon for the elderly to overexert while shoveling snow which can cause heart attacks, Hess said.

Camati said that if there are other risk factors such as a history of cardiac disease present, seniors should get someone else to shovel snow for them.

Relatives, neighbors and friends should check in on the elderly more frequently in the winter, Davis said.

Staff writer Lynette K. Miller can be reached at 626-1442 or by e-mail at lmiller@exponent-telegram.com

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