By Brandon Martin
Antibiotic resistance, fall and fire prevention, outdoor safety tips and seasonal affective disorder were all discussed Tuesday at Carilion Clinic’s “Surviving Winter for Seniors and Caregivers” workshop held in the Martinsville branch of the Blue Ridge Regional Library.
The topics were selected to provide senior citizens with the information they need to stay safe during the cold winter months.
Betty Robertson, the Carilion Clinic nurse who gave the presentation, said that the topic is normally broached at the beginning of the winter months but “since winter decided not to show up until this week,” the information was still valuable.
However, she added and that the information presented was not meant to substitute specific medical advice given from doctors.
The biggest piece of advice that Robertson said she could give was to be vigilant about “washing your hands.”
She said that there are approximately 3-5 million severe cases of the flu each year and 250,000 to 500,000 deaths that could have potentially been avoided by washing your hands properly. This information is particularly pertinent to adults over the age of 65 because it’s the cause of “most deaths in industrial countries.
“Your immune system is a very precious asset and it protects us,” she said. “Most people can recover from a bout of the flu but a large number need hospitalization.”
Robertson said that, along with properly washing your hands, a flu vaccination is the best way to prevent the illness. Vaccines can prevent the flu in healthy adults by 70-90 percent, severe illnesses are decreased by 60 percent for the elderly, and deaths are prevented by 50 percent, according to her.
For adults over the age of 50, she said the shingles, pneumococcal polysaccharide and pneumococcal conjugate vaccines “are a must.” There are a few circumstances where getting the vaccination may do more harm than good. Robertson said that people with severe or life-threatening allergies to chicken, eggs, gelatin or antibodies should avoid the vaccine. Children under the age of six and anyone already fighting infection should also not get vaccinated.
Besides the flu, the common cold and the respiratory syncytial virus, which is the leading cause of death in adults 65 or older, were also listed as areas of concern for the group.
“Don’t wait to go to the doctor,” she said. “When you start feeling bad, that’s when you should visit a doctor. We can’t help you three days later.”
Another main aspect of surviving winter is simply staying warm according to Robertson.
“Particularly with people over the age of 65, we do want to encourage you all to warm up,” she said. “I don’t just mean temperature-wise. Do some stretches and get limber before you go outside because it’ll help your flexibility and decrease your chance of falling.”
According to Robertson, people 65 or older are twice as likely to be killed by a fall or fire compared to the general population. Those that are older than 75 are three times as likely.
She suggested exercise, getting routine vision checks, and avoiding throw rugs in order to reduce the chance of falling.
Using a rake appropriate for your height, wearing gloves to prevent blisters, bending at the knees and wearing slip-resistant shoes were also mentioned as tips on how to prevent injury during outdoor activities.
Hypothermia and winter driving are another area of concern with the elderly. Hypothermia, or when more heat is leaving the body than being produced, “can be prevented by staying dry and dressing in layers,” Robertson said.
Robertson said those looking to drive during the winter months “should plan their routes ahead.” Some of her tips to remain safe were replacing worn out tires, maintaining the appropriate tire pressure, and stocking the vehicle with emergency supplies like food, water and blankets.
The presentation concluded with a warning about seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a type of depression that typically starting in the late fall and early winter and going away during the spring and summer according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
“Opening window shades, eating healthy, getting the proper amount of sleep, and getting up and moving” were some of the biggest steps a person could take to deal with SAD, according to Robertson who adding “don’t be afraid to talk to a health professional if you need to.”