Friday, April 29, 2016

Preparing Your Aging Loved Ones for Tornado Season

Be sure to have an emergency plan
in place for your aging parents.

It was a calm afternoon in early May when the sky suddenly turned dark and ominous.  A thunderstorm was approaching.  The clouds turned green and then yellow and orange and soon began to pile up and converge.  As the sky grew dark and the wind picked up, large hail began to fall.  A tornado was on its way.

Our area will soon be in the severe weather season for tornadoes.  A tornado can occur at any time of the year; however, the peak season for Wisconsin is May through August.  In the northern states the season starts later in June and the southern states are on alert as early as March.  Even if you and your aging loved ones don’t live in states considered to be part of the tornado alley, it is important to have a plan in place in case the weather turns severe.

Knowing the difference between the two tornado warnings can help individuals know what steps they need to take to protect themselves. 

A Tornado Watch is an indication that tornadoes are possible in and near the watch area.  During a Tornado Watch, people should remain alert for approaching storms and be prepared to move to safety if a warning is issued.  It is a good idea to know which counties are in the watch area by listening to NOOAA Weather Radio All Hazards or a local radio or TV station.  

A Severe Thunderstorm Watch means that thunderstorms with large hail and damaging winds are possible. With a Severe Thunderstorm Watch, individuals must be prepared to move to a safe place immediately.  

A Tornado Warning is when a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar.  Once a Tornado Warning has been issued it is important to immediately move to a safe place to wait out the storm.  Tuning in to local media to keep informed about the weather is good, but having a plan of action in place in the event of an emergency can mean the difference between life and death.
Tornado Myths
In the case of a tornado, it is often wise to know what not to do.  There are many myths surrounding tornadoes which are commonly accepted as fact by elderly and can lead to making poor choices during an emergency. 

Tornadoes don’t come here – It is very common for people to assume that because a tornado hasn’t hit an area before that it cannot happen.  Assuming immunity to tornadoes is a dangerous myth to follow.

I can’t see one – Stepping outside to check the sky after hearing a Tornado Warning may be a natural reaction to the news but don’t assume that just because you cannot see a funnel cloud it isn’t there.  Funnel clouds are often masked in a dropping cloud base and can descend at a moment’s notice.  Rain and hail can be so thick and whipped around by wind that it obscures the tornado itself.   Tornado experts say people should not venture out looking for tornadoes when a Tornado Warning is issued.  At that time the best thing is to immediately seek shelter.

Taking Cover – Contrary to popular belief, the southwest corner of a basement is no safer than any other corner during a tornado.  An interior room in the basement, away from windows with a support structure, like a stairwell, is the best possible place to wait out a storm.  Hiding under a sturdy workbench or heavy table is a good shelter spot. Wearing a bicycle helmet while waiting out the storm is excellent protection from possible flying debris.  If basement shelter is not available, then an interior room on the ground floor, preferably without windows is the next best option.  Taking shelter in a bathtub, covered by a small mattress and blankets, is another option.

Open the windows – Wind blowing the walls in or out is what causes major structural damage during a tornado, not the pressure of the storm on the house.  Taking time to go through the house to open each window instead of immediately getting to a safe shelter space can be dangerous, especially when a Tornado Warning has been issued.

Hide under a highway overpass – When on the road and a Tornado Warning has been issued it is best to stay in the car and driving away from the storm.  Tornadoes generally travel at about 25 mph, but can move up to 60 mph in the spring when storms are more powerful.  Although Tornadoes can change paths, they generally move in the same direction, so outrunning a storm is possible.  If there is no way to avoid a tornado, taking shelter in a low lying ditch is better than getting into a culvert or hiding under a highway overpass.  The wind from the storm can create a tunnel effect and can literally suck people out of their hiding place.

What to do
Prepare for tornado season by making sure your elderly loved one’s home is insured for full replacement value rather than just its market value.  Be sure there is a list of their possessions to prove ownership and value just in case.  It is always wise to have a copy of all important papers safely stowed away in a safe deposit box.  Keeping a list of insurance policies, policy numbers and contact information for the agents is a good idea too. 

Practice what to do in the case of emergency with your elderly loved ones.  Go over the different tornado warnings and review the various alarms used locally to warn people about severe weather.  Show your loved ones where to go and what to do in the event of an actual tornado and have them practice getting to their shelter area if a warning is given.  Set them up with a weather radio and show them how to monitor the weather. 

Review the Acronym D-U-C-K with your aging loved ones. 
D = Get Down to the lowest level in the house.
U = Get Under something. Preferably a stairwell, work bench or heavy table.
C = Cover your head.  Use a bike helmet, a blanket or pillow.
K = Keep in the shelter until the storm has passed.

Deb Hintz is Assistant to the Director for HomeAid Health Care. HomeAid provides services for the elderly who wish to remain safe and independent at home.  HomeAid is sister company to Prairie Home Assisted Living which has served the physical, spiritual, mental and health needs of their residents since 1999.  Together the two companies provide comprehensive care for the elderly in the Fox Valley area of Wisconsin.


Monday, April 4, 2016

Aging Joints

Joint pain can be one of the most
crippling aspects of living with arthritis.

A sharp burning, ripping pain… a constant pins and needles sting…  a throbbing, traveling ache… the constant echo of hurt … the pain of Arthritis is experienced differently by those who suffer from it.  For some it is stiffness and discomfort when rising in the morning for others it is chronic and disabling pain which travels through the body like a hot fiery poker.

Arthritis literally means “joint inflammation,” but the term really defines more than 100 different conditions which affect joints throughout the body.  Symptoms of arthritis can include swelling, pain, stiffness and a decrease in range of motion as the disease influences the muscles, tissues and the bones associated with joints.  People of all ages, sexes, and races can suffer from arthritis and it is the leading cause of disability in America.  More than 50 million adults and 300,000 children have some type of arthritis.  Arthritis is more common among women and it occurs more frequently as people age. There are two common types of arthritis which are prevalent among the aging, Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Considered a common form of joint disease, OA usually afflicts people over the age of 60.  Although many elderly experience this type of arthritis in some degree or another, it is not considered an inevitable part of aging. Generally those with this disease deal with limitations in their movement and experience pain.  Osteoarthritis usually affects weight-bearing joints and is commonly associated with a deterioration or breakdown of the joint itself. Osteoarthritis destroys the cartilage which acts as a cushion-like connection between the joints.  When everything is working well, the cartilage protects the bones of the joint from rubbing on each other.  When Osteoarthritis attacks the cartilage it begins to die and disintegrate leaving the joint to grind bone on bone, causing pain.  

Carrying extra weight can really add stress to the lower body joints and is a documented factor in the development of Osteoarthritis.  At risk, in particular, are knees and hips.  For every extra pound a person gains, an added 4 pounds of pressure are on the knees and each pound increases the pressure on the hips by a factor of 6.

Another common factor in the onset of OA is injury or overuse of joints.  Former athletes have a higher risk of developing Osteoarthritis as they age due to increased stress or sport related injuries and on their joints when they were young.  Even those who were not athletic their youth can develop problems as they age due to repetitive motion that put stress on their joints. 

Genetics can also play a role in the onset of Osteoarthritis, especially when there is a family history of arthritis in the hands.  Families pass on bone abnormalities which affect the joint shape and causes problems with the cartilage. 

Rheumatoid Arthritis
Considered a chronic autoimmune disease, RA is a systemic inflammatory condition that causes joint destruction. Currently there is little understanding why those with Rheumatoid Arthritis develop an immune system that attacks itself.  The immune system, normally used to fight infection, attacks the joint causing inflammation, swelling, stiffness and pain. Rheumatoid Arthritis causes progressive deterioration of the joints and often often results in permanent joint damage, deformity and disability.

The onset of Rheumatoid Arthritis can be as early as in the mid-twenties and affects people throughout their lives.  RA presents itself with swelling and stiffness in the joints of the shoulders and neck, hands and wrists, hips, knees and feet and is often more noticeable in the mornings or when the body is resting.  Because RA affects the entire body, other symptoms such as fever, weight loss, fatigue and loss of appetite are often associated with RA and the inflammation can affect the body’s glands, blood vessels and the lining of the heart and lungs. 

Managing Arthritis
What can individuals with arthritis do to decrease the pain associate with this disease? 

Exercising is a key component to improving health and can help ease some symptoms of arthritis.  Studies have shown even two minutes of exercise daily is enough to ease pain, improve energy levels, strengthen muscles that support joints, increase joint range of motion, plus lose excess pounds that add stress to painful joints. Pool-walking and water aerobics can be an incredible workout that does not strain joints.  Stretching and building strength in muscles through yoga and Tia chi can also be beneficial for those who suffer with Arthritis pain.  Walking, biking and swimming are other good options.

It is important to balance activity with rest.  Moderate movement with Arthritis is beneficial, but over exercising can cause increase in joint pain. 

Eating a healthy balance diet with an emphasis on food with anti-inflammation properties can make a real difference in levels of arthritic pain.  Focus on consuming lean or low fat source of protein, food rich in calcium and dark green and orange vegetables and foods rich in antioxidants such as fruit. Tart cherries, blueberries and raspberries can help limit inflammation and pain levels in joints.

Along with exercising and diet, there are other options to help manage arthritic pain.  Consult with your family physician about medications that may be of benefit to you such as vitamins, and/or supplements associated with relief from arthritis pain.

Kate McCarthy is Director of Operations for HomeAid Health Care which provides services for the elderly who wish to remain safe and independent at home.  HomeAid is sister company to Prairie Home Assisted Living which has served the physical, spiritual, mental and health needs of their residents since 1999.  Together the two companies provide comprehensive care for the elderly in the Fox Valley area of Wisconsin.

Sources:, Feb. 18, 2015.,Greta M. Pelegrin, PharmD