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Cold presents challenges to elderly

Feb. 14, 2013 |

HOLYOKE – With wind chills well below zero safety is an issue for many people, including the elderly. Doctors say it only takes five minutes for exposed skin to freeze in this type of cold and frostbite can cause permanent damage. Fran O'Connell, RN and president of O'Connell Care at Home, offers some advice for caring for elderly when the temperatures drop. "With the frigid temperatures we're having right now, you should always check on the elderly; family, friends, neighbors to make sure they're OK," O'Connell said. "Also, it's important to be extra careful with space heaters and electric blankets." Hypothermia – where the body loses heat faster than it can be produced – can be deadly, especially for the elderly. Symptoms of hypothermia include confusion or mental disorientation, fatigue, and irregular heartbeat. Other symptoms could include shivering, slurred speech, memory loss, sleepiness, cool or pale skin, or numbness in the hands and feet. "It's the folks at the extreme of age that are most at risk and if they're outside for long periods of time, their body temperature can drop," O'Connell said. O'Connell also says slips and falls occur more commonly in the winter months due to snow and ice accumulation. A slip or fall outside may force an elderly person to lie outside for long periods of time before anyone finds them. O'Connell is a Holyoke native with more than 27 years of experience in home health, hospice and palliative, dementia, and geriatric care. He founded O'Connell Professional Nurse Service Inc., in 1987 and continues to manage the organization today. O'Connell he is one of the few area Geriatric Care Managers that is a practicing Nurse Practitioner. Fran received a BS in Nursing from Columbia University in New York City; an MS as a Family Nurse Practitioner from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; and is a former officer in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. To learn more about O'Connell's, call their Hadley office at 584-0634; Holyoke office at 533-1030; or visit www.opns.com.

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