Tag Archives: snow

Prepare for Holiday Travel

Vantage Point: The Gift of Preparedness

The holidays provide the perfect time for people to be out and about, traveling to various destinations.

You think about if you have all the gifts and various outfits with you in case different events arise. Did your family members pack what they need, and did you pack your toothbrush? Those are all very important things to focus on, but have you thought about what you might need if something during your travels goes awry?

Do you have what you need to make it through an unplanned emergency? Yes, I know it’s not fun to think about things that could go wrong. But if you do, it just might help or even be lifesaving, depending on the circumstance. Just one tip to remember when you’re playing the mental game of what could go wrong that I like to remember: not fear, just prepare. Don’t live in fear. Just try to have the basics covered.

Let’s imagine that you’re taking a holiday trip by car to visit family. Let’s say that they are pretty far away, a few hours, and the weather hasn’t been the greatest lately, but today it’s OK. They are forecasting snow closer to where your family lives, but you think you’ll beat the snow by an hour or so. But what if you don’t?

What if the car breaks down, and it throws your timeline off, and you do encounter that snowstorm? And what if you didn’t break down, but the storm is worse than predicted, and you can’t get to your destination? Do you have the supplies you’d need to get help or wait out the storm?

I know it’s literally impossible to plan for all the potential issues, but thinking of it in categories can help you plan the best items to have for you and your family. Think shelter, food, and water as a basic start. Your vehicle can hopefully be your shelter, so what about the other variables?

  • Stay hydrated and fed. 

    Because you’re traveling, you might pass through an area where there aren’t any stores close by, and now the family is hungry, and it doesn’t look like you’ll be moving toward your destination anytime soon. The first item you should think about having with you is water. It’s always smart to have water, from a few jugs or bottles to a whole case. You can never go wrong having extra handy. Next you should think about food. These can range from snack items to protein bars and high-calorie survival bars.

     
  • Keep warm. 

    Because you’re traveling in the winter in our imagined scenario, it’s probably going to be cold in your area. If something happens where you lose the heat in your car, do you have supplies to keep everyone warm? You might think about having warm blankets, hand warmer packets, layers of clothes to put on, and a thermos of warm soup, water, cocoa, or coffee. (And this isn’t the be-all-end-all list, but just some ideas to get you thinking!)

If you’re thinking that those are great starter ideas, but you might need more robust supplies, there are plenty of things out there to help. Winter travel kits at the local box stores make it easy to be prepared in a variety of situations. You can also search for more winter car travel safety tips online.

The possibilities are endless, and you really can tailor your needs to your family and their well-being. Happy travels!

Breck Obermeyer is a community liaison with Health Alliance Northwest, serving Yakima County. She is a small-town girl from Naches and has a great husband who can fix anything and 2 kids who are her world.

Hot Cocoa and Winter Health Risks

Long View: Cold Hands, Hot Cocoa

I always remember December from my childhood, when the weather got subzero, and the wind was playfully whipping snowflakes around. School was out for the holidays, and my sister and I always loved to play outdoors, despite the frigid temperatures.

We would come downstairs with our garb, and Mom would get us all bundled up to brave the weather. Snowsuits, scarves, hats, gloves, and boots were standard outerwear those days. My mom would secure the scarf so that it would stay put, and the hat would cover my ears and my forehead. When she was through, I could barely see and hardly move.

I remember stiffly walking out the door, hoping that with more movement, I would loosen up enough to enjoy some of the winter wonderland we called our yard. Hot cocoa would be waiting for us when we came in, and it was like magic what that cup of warmth could do!

Today, I run out of the house without a coat, hat, gloves, or scarf, thinking, I’m just going to the car, then running in to work. My days of bundling up are over. This is what happens when you go from 6 years old to 60. But honestly, what am I thinking?

Winter health risks should be a concern for our aging population. (Hey, that’s me too!) The most obvious risk is the weather itself. Midwestern winters can consist of ice and snow. Driving is a challenge. Walking is even more of a challenge. Slips on ice are a major risk, so it’s important to wear the right shoes or boots with good traction if you have to go out.  

Hypothermia is also a common winter weather health risk. Hypothermia means your body temperature has fallen below 95 degrees, and once it gets to that point for a prolonged period of time, you can’t produce enough energy to stay warm.

Symptoms include shivering, cold pale skin, lack of coordination, slowed reactions and breathing, and mental confusion. It’s good to pay attention to how cold it is where you are, whether it’s indoors or outdoors. Also, make sure you’re eating enough to keep up a healthy weight. Body fat helps you stay warm.

Frostbite is another health risk during the winter months. Frostbite means your skin has been over-exposed to cold temperatures, and it usually affects the nose, ears, cheeks, fingers, and toes. It can be severe and cause permanent damage to the skin, and even progress to the bone.

Frostbite can affect anyone who is exposed to below freezing temperatures, in particular, those who aren’t wearing the right clothing. It’s important to wear layers, preferably 2 to 3 layers of loose-fitting clothing, as well as a coat, hat, gloves, and a scarf. Covering up your nose and mouth will also protect your lungs from the cold air.

As for drinking a cup of hot cocoa, well, that is a winter weather health benefit! According to a study at Cornell University, hot cocoa has almost twice as many antioxidants as red wine, and 2 to 3 times more than green tea! This winter, enjoy the magic of the season by keeping yourself safe and warm.

Mervet Adams is a community liaison with Health Alliance. She loves her grandson, family, nature, and fashion.

Safe and Happy Holidays

Holiday Safety Tips

These important holiday safety tips can help you have a happy and safe season. Make sure you’re decorating smart with the 12 Days of Safety.

12 Days of Safety

 

Angel hair for decorating is made from spun glass and can irritate your eyes and skin. Wear gloves or use non-flammable cotton instead.

Avoiding Angel Hair

 

Spraying artificial snow can irritate your lungs if you breathe it in, so follow the directions carefully.

Spraying Fake Snow Safely

 

Make sure poisonous plants, like some poinsettias, are above the reach of children and pets.

Safe Decoration Placement

 

Choose your gifts wisely. Give older family members presents that aren’t heavy or awkward to carry.

Safe Gift-Giving

 

Be aware of the dangers of coin lithium batteries when giving gifts during the holidays.

 

Make sure you have a designated driver from holiday parties, and be prepared for driving in the snow during holiday travel.

Drive Smart During the Holiday Season

 

Learn More

Get more important decorating holiday safety tips for a healthy and safe holiday season.

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Warm and Cozy Winter Relaxation

Chasing Health: Writing, Resting, and Winning Winter

Even with an occasional 60-degree day, February isn’t exactly my favorite month for getting active (or doing anything really, except maybe watching college basketball and catching up on TV shows). I prefer to spend my winter under a warm blanket with a giant sweatshirt and my bunny slippers, remote in hand, butt on couch.

The Infamous Bunny Slippers

As someone who thinks the first snow of the season is magical and who saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens (chock-full of hope from crawl to credits) three times this winter, I know if I’m running a little low on hope and motivation, lots of others probably are, too. After the holiday goodies go stale, I’m kind of done with winter. The mere thought of being outside in the cold makes me cringe. (Once again, thank goodness for those rare warm February days.)

Despite the snow, ice, and occasional subzero wind chills (gross), you don’t have to hibernate for the whole season. A little rest mixed with a hobby here and there is a great recipe for a productive and satisfying winter, even if you’re like me and think stepping outside in the cold is pure torture.

Winter is the perfect time to knock some indoor projects, big or small, off your to-do list. Hobbies can be great for your overall health, even if they’re not fitness related, by helping you reduce stress and sharpen your mind. And there’s no shame in resting, either.

In fact, relaxation is healthy, too. It not only helps refresh your mind, but it also helps lower your risk for certain diseases. Relaxation doesn’t mean lying in bed all day doing nothing. You can take some time to do something you love, catch up with a friend or family member on the phone (or in person if you’re ready to brave the cold), or try a new, relaxing hobby.

Winter is a gift-wrapped, guilt-free excuse handed to us each year (at least in the northern half of the United States), allowing us to put off our outdoor activities for about three months.

I need to cherish that gift, and here’s a short list of how I plan to do so with a mixture of stimulating and relaxing hobbies. You can customize the list and make the most of winter, too.

Nicole’s Ultimate Relaxation & At-Home Projects List

Make my dream a reality.

Although writing is literally my job, after years of writing about real-life events and health facts, I want to try my hand at fiction. I’ve dreamed of writing a novel since grade school, and it’s at the top of my bucket list (or sunshine list, as my friend aptly named it).

The verdict is still out on whether I’m any good, but this item is mostly about achieving a personal goal. Plus, writing is the perfect indoor activity for me (I can wear my bunny slippers AND make my dream come true).

Complete a major organization project.

Although it’s not quite as empowering as writing an entire novel, I would love to someday have every photo I’ve ever taken, or at least the good ones, organized both digitally and in print. (Not having printed photos makes me uneasy every time I watch a post-apocalyptic TV show or movie). Like my book, this one will take more than a season, but it’s another activity I can do inside.

I’m staying away from scrapbooking, though. I learned firsthand while creating a (very thorough) scrapbook of my senior year of high school that my perfectionism and scrapbooking don’t mix well when stress relief is my goal.

Take something old and make it new.

I spent a large chunk of last winter painting Mason jars to use as brightly colored vases in my apartment. I also started saving and painting olive, pickle, and pepper jars in the process, and suddenly, I had a winter hobby. I love olives, pickles, and peppers almost as much as candy, so my collection grew pretty quickly.

They were easy to paint (there are different techniques with varying degrees of difficulty) and reminded me of spring.

Mason Jar Project

Get active.

There are plenty of physical activities you can do without getting out in the nasty weather. Last winter, I started a step challenge. I got a LOT of steps, about 10,000 per day, sometimes closer to 20,000, mostly by walking around my apartment during commercial breaks, sporting events, and phone conversations. (Sorry, downstairs neighbors.)

I sometimes also do pushups, squats, crunches, and various other exercises while watching TV, and my all-time favorite exercise, dancing, is living room-friendly as well. Basically, as long as dancing and/or being able to watch TV is on the table, I’m a fan of exercise.

Channel my inner kid.

I’m somewhat of an expert at this one. For instance, I ate SpaghettiOs while writing this blog post.

Anyway, adult coloring books are a thing now. My co-workers and I have started having coloring nights after work. I use a kid coloring book, though. To me, the adult ones look too tough to be fun, and I’m a bigger fan of Disney characters than abstract designs anyway.

Coloring books can help you relieve stress and relax while also stimulating your brain, and they’re a nice indoor escape.

Get Coloring

Health Alliance Coloring Club
Health Alliance’s Coloring Club

Spruce up for spring.

Spring sprang in my apartment about a week ago because, like I’ve mentioned again and again, I’m tired of the cold. Decorating helps me cut back on boredom and allows for some creativity. Once it’s done, it’s a daily reminder that spring isn’t too far away. I highly recommend this one.

Spring Decor Everywhere

Enjoy those rare warm days.

If it’s going to be 60 degrees outside (or even upper 50s), I intend to get out and enjoy the spring-like temperature. As much as my relaxation and indoor projects list motivates me, nothing is quite as motivating as being able to go outside on a sunny day in a spring jacket.

 

Disclaimer: While the items on this list can help you fight boredom, escape from stress, feel accomplished, and stimulate your mind, they’re not magic. Winter will still be winter.

When the relaxation and indoor hobbies aren’t masking the winter grind, just remember, jelly bean season is in full swing, and pitchers and catchers reported this week. Spring will come.

Jelly Bean Season!

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Don't Fall with Tai Chi

Your Ultimate Guide to Fall Prevention

Each year as the weather turns icy, we return to one major health topic for older adults, avoiding a fall. How big is the risk actually, though?

Truth in Numbers

No matter how healthy you are, falling is a real risk. About 1 out of 3 adults age 65 or older falls each year, but less than half of those talk to their doctors about it.

Sure, you might think, but everyone falls once in a while, right? Kids fall all the time! But your mom falling could be a lot more serious than your toddler. Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries in older adults.

In 2013, 2.5 million people were treated for nonfatal falls, and 734,000 of those had to be hospitalized. And in 2012, the medical costs from falls reached $30 billion.

They cause the most broken bones, traumatic brain injuries, and over 95% of hip fractures in older adults. And women are twice as likely as men to break a bone.

What Causes A Fall

Icy and slippery weather is of course a big reason that falls happen, but winter isn’t the only time to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Seeing is an essential part of most of our days, but as you age and your vision gets worse, it can increase your risk of falling. If you can’t see the danger, it’s harder to avoid it.

Some medications, both prescription and over-the-counter can cause side effects, like dizziness and drowsiness, that can make it more likely you’ll take a tumble.

Dangers in your homes, like tripping hazards, stairs, and slippery bathtubs, are a huge risk.

And many people who fall once are afraid of falling again and what could happen if they do. This leads them to limit their activities, lowering their mobility and fitness, which can actually increase their chances of falling and of getting hurt.

A recent study also found that many people’s falls are because of an infection, which can cause low blood pressure, which can make you feel dizzy or lightheaded. This can both lead to your fall, or make you confused about what happened afterwards.

Year-Round Protection

There are ways to help stop falls before they happen:

Get your eyes checked each year, and always keep your glasses prescription as up to date as possible.

Ask your doctor to review all your meds, and see if there are other options for any drugs that might be increasing your risk of falling.

Fall-proof your home. Adding grab bars in the bathroom and railings to stairs and even improving the lighting in your home can make a huge difference.

Get enough calcium and Vitamin D from foods like dairy, soy milk, orange juice, and salmon, or take a regular supplement.

Get tested for osteoporosis.

Remove clutter. A messy house can actually increase your chance of falling at home. Learn more.

Get active! There are great options and resources for getting healthy at any age.

  • Tai Chi is especially helpful for improving your balance and leg strength. Use this Tai Chi Fall Prevention Toolkit to get started now.
  • Try walking outside with friends or family.
  • Weight bearing exercises can lower your chance of hip fractures.
  • Water aerobics is a great way to move without stressing your joints.
  • Moving to the beat and changing to a rhythm are shown to reduce falls. Get dancing at your local senior center’s events, take lessons, or just let loose at home.
  • We want to help, too. Our Medicare members have perks to help you get fit at a gym of your choice.  Our members also get discounts at certain fitness locations.

All statistics are from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The Right Kind of Falling in the Winter

Long View: Don’t Let Falling Lead You Down a Slippery Slope

Our central Illinois weather definitely challenged us this winter. Slippery conditions are my least favorite. I took a tumble in a local grocery store parking lot and “fortunately” there were plenty of spectators to help me up. I am guessing it was on camera, too.

For some of our older friends and family members, the potential for falling is not based on the weather, but a year-round concern. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Every 15 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall; every 29 minutes, an older adult dies following a fall.”

Sobering statistics, to say the least.

This year, Health Alliance Medicare, with Catholic Charities of Decatur, St. Mary’s Hospital, and the East Central Illinois Area Agency on Aging (ECIAAA), is supporting a program called A Matter of Balance. This evidence-based program helps people learn to avoid falls and teaches them how to increase strength and enhance balance.

Mike O’Donnell, ECIAAA executive director, reviewed the training materials and told me, “Older adults at risk of falling often fear injury, a broken hip and having to be in a nursing home. This program encourages us to reduce the risk of falling by using sensible safeguards. We can all choose not to allow fear of falling to take over our lives by using good judgment and common sense. The fear of falling can often lead to isolation and feeling out of touch.”

Specially trained volunteer coaches lead the eight, 2-hour classes that make up the program. The classes involve group discussion, problem solving, skill building, video tapes, and exercise training. A physical therapist attends one of the classes to answer questions and discuss safety issues.

Now that I think about it, this kind of training wouldn’t hurt any of us. As usual, prevention is the best course.

The program is open to anyone, whether you’d like to learn for yourself or to better help others.

If this seems like a good idea, please contact Nicole Kirlin at Catholic Charities of Decatur at 217-428-0013, or by email at Kirlin_dec@cc.dio.org. She would be happy to talk with you and let you know if A Matter of Balance is available in your area.

I had every intention of signing up myself. I guess it must have slipped my mind. I won’t make that mistake again!

Your Home's Thermostat

Long View: No One Wins in Thermostat Wars

When I was little, I loved visiting my grandparents in the winter. There was always lots of snow, and my siblings, cousins and I would play outside for hours. Our folks would slap a stocking cap on our heads with a pair of woolen mittens and any available coat. Then off we would go. The cold didn’t even bother me then. We usually came in when our cheeks and fingers were numb, but not before.

Things have changed, to say the least. I now own every thermal article of clothing known to mankind. If it’s cold enough, I have been known to wear gloves to get the mail, and the letter box is on my front porch. Winter weather is no longer the joyful playground of my youth.

My grandmother lived with my aunt and cousin until she was in her 90s. I remember the “thermostat wars” every winter. Grandma was never warm enough and would flip the thermostat up to 85. My aunt would be “roasting to death,” as she would say, and turn the thermostat down to 65 degrees. They went back and forth until spring.

So what happens to transform cold-tolerant kids into shivering adults? Dr. Stephen Belgrave is a medical director at Health Alliance Medicare and a family practice physician. He puts it this way.

“Peripheral vascular disease affects many of our older patients,” he said. “This can slow circulation, and this often affects temperature sensations. It’s important to protect older people from extremes in temperature because of these types of sensory deficits.”

Ah, there you have it. It seems I now qualify as an “older patient.” But the question is how can caregivers help their mature friends and family members?

Here are a few suggestions:

• Be more tolerant when someone complains about being uncomfortable. Even if you think the temperature is cozy, that may not be true for older people.

• Make sure your loved ones have protection from the cold when they go outside. Check and see if they have a cold weather emergency kit in their car. If they don’t have one, it makes a great gift.

• Offer rides (in your preheated car) to the store, appointments and errands during colder months. Removing snow and warming up a car can be a serious hurdle to older adults and people with peripheral vascular disease.

• Finally, find a comfortable, temperate middle ground. Do not engage in “thermostat” wars. I can say from personal experience no one ever wins.

*This piece first ran in 2009.