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Health for seniors during winter



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October 26, 2011 - By Joe St. Henry

Review Editor

Not every senior migrates south for the winter.

That is why Dr. Amy McCarthy, M.D., internal medicine and pediatrics, St. Joseph Mercy Hospital-Oakland, says those staying in Michigan should take steps to weather the long winter months.

"We see a lot of respiratory ailments among seniors in the winter especially coughs, colds and the flu," she said. "These sicknesses are made worse among this age group due to underlying illnesses, such as heart disease, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and diabetes. There are preventative steps seniors can take, however, to help avoid visiting our office."

Dr. McCarthy's suggestions for seniors 65 and older include:

1.Get a flu shot A special high-dose flu shot that provides extra protection is now available for seniors. As a person grows older, his or her immune response declines, making seniors more susceptible to illness during the traditional flu season, she said.

2.Avoid shoveling snow McCarthy said the cold air and upper body exercise can be a bad combination for a senior's heart. Icy conditions also can cause falls.

3.Take a vitamin D supplement People need vitamin D for good bone health. Most seniors are Vitamin D deficient to begin with, lacking the recommended 400 international units daily. She recommends they take a vitamin D supplement beyond this dosage to combat Michigan's often overcast winter days with little sunshine.

4.Exercise regularly Seniors who enjoy a regular exercise routine in the winter improve their balance and strengthen bone density, which can help them avoid injuries during winter conditions, Dr. McCarthy said. Exercise also helps reduce blood pressure.

5.Watch for depression symptoms Depression is common among elderly patients, she said, especially during the winter. Symptoms include a general lack of interest, chronic tiredness or an inability to sleep. Dr. McCarthy strongly suggests persons suffering from such symptoms in the winter seek medical attention, for depression can be treated.

"Simple preventative steps and measures go a long way to keep our senior patients healthy during the winter," she said, noting a significant percent of her patients are in this age group. "Those that follow them seem to enjoy the season more than others."

Dr. McCarthy's office in Lake Orion is located at 1375 S. Lapeer Road, in Lake Orion. To schedule an appointment, call 248-693-5700.

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