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Health & Medical

Seniors especially susceptible to the cold

Illinois agency offers safety tips

SPRINGFIELD – Winter poses a special threat to seniors, the Illinois Department on Aging says.

Topping the winter “to-do” list should be getting a flu shot. People 50 and older are considered most at risk.

It’s not too late – flu season usually runs until April.

Older people also are advised to set their thermostats to above 65 degrees. Seniors who lower the thermostat to reduce heating bills risk developing hypothermia, a potentially fatal condition in which the body temperature drops dangerously low.

Also at increased risk are older people who take certain medications, drink alcohol, lack proper nutrition, and who have conditions such as arthritis, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

It’s important to have the furnace checked to be sure that it is in good shape and heating ducts are properly ventilated. Proper ventilation also is a concern if you use alternative heat from a fireplace, wood stove or space heater. If you use heating oil, be sure that you have enough on hand.

Seniors, disabled individuals, and families with small children who are having difficulty paying their heating bills are encouraged to apply for grants from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

Go to or call the toll-free Keep Warm Illinois hotline at 877-411-9276 for information on local agencies that take applications.

In the Sauk Valley, that’s the Tri-County Opportunities Council, 405 Emmons Ave. in Rock Falls, or 815-625-7830.

Seniors also are encouraged to:

n Dress in layers, both indoors and outdoors.

n Keep active. Make a list of exercises and activities to do indoors when you can’t get out.

n Eat well and drink 10 glasses of water every day. It’s important to stay hydrated.

n Stock up on extra nonperishable food supplies, just in case.

n Keep extra medications in the house. If that’s not possible, make arrangements to have your medications delivered.

n Have your house winterized. Be sure that walls and attics are insulated. Caulk and weather-strip doors and windows. Insulate pipes near outer walls, in crawl spaces and attics that are susceptible to freezing.

n Make sure you and your family know how to shut off the water supply in case pipes burst.

n Prepare your vehicle for winter weather. Check wipers, tires, lights and fluid levels regularly. Keep a windshield scraper and small broom for ice and snow removal. Maintain at least a half tank of gas during the winter season. Plan long trips carefully and travel by daylight with at least one other person.

n Protect against fire. If you don’t have a fire extinguisher, buy one. Make sure space heaters are at least 3 feet from anything flammable. Do not overload extension cords.

n Do not shovel snow or walk in deep snow – have someone else do the shoveling. The strain from the cold and hard labor could cause a heart attack; sweating can lead to a chill and even hypothermia.

n Learn more from Illinois’ “Keep Warm” program at or 877-411-9276.

n For more information about program services to assist older adults in Illinois and their caregivers, call the Department on Aging Senior HelpLine at 800-252-8966 or 888-206-1327 if you are hearing impaired.

Source: Illinois Department on Aging

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