More MS news articles for January 2001

Surviving the Winter with MS

Author: Pamela Martin
Published on: January 1, 2001

"Oh, the weather outside is frightful,
But the fire is so delightful,
And since we've no place to go,
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…"
Heavy Snow. Freezing rain. Biting winds. Slippery pavements. Stalled cars. Falling temperatures.
After a few years of relatively mild weather--courtesy of El Ninõ--we've got to face the cold (no pun intended)truth. It really is beginning to look a lot like winter this year.

A blustery blizzard is tough for even the hardiest of giants to manage. But, inclement weather is particularly brutal for many who suffer with MS. Mobility problems, cold intolerance, diminished sensations, and poor vision can make falling snow more stressful than blissful. In addition, many people with MS struggle to afford adequate heating due to limited incomes and rising energy prices. Others may resist assistance from others even though they could really use the help.

Of course, severe winter weather is not merely an annoyance; it can be downright dangerous. This is a time when those of us who hate to ask for help must swallow our misplaced pride and let our needs be known. It is a time for family and friends to keep the lines of communications open—to regularly check on those who live alone and make sure that they have adequate supplies to get through winter safely.

Indoor Safety

Stay indoors as much as possible. To prevent hypothermia, try to keep at least one room heated to 70 degrees.

Sleep warm: extra blankets, cap, socks and layered clothing can help. If you use an electric blanket, do not place wet items or other blankets on top of it. Avoid using an electric blanket on any sick person who cannot operate the controls.

Eat high-energy foods along with warm drinks and soup, but avoid alcoholic beverages.

Be especially careful when using fireplaces and wood stoves. Check portable heaters for frayed cords or broken filaments. In addition, keep flammable materials away from heaters and avoid using portable heaters and lit candles near curtains and furniture.

Before bad weather hits, it's a good idea to have all home heating systems and your furnace checked by a professional. Carbon monoxide poisoning and home fires are winter hazards that can be caused by faulty or improperly used heating sources.

Assemble a "Disaster Supplies Kit" containing-- First aid kit and essential medications, battery-powered NOAA Weather radio, flashlight, and extra batteries, canned food and can opener. bottled water (at least one gallon of water per person per day to last at least 3 days), and finally, extra warm clothing, including boots, mittens, and a hat.

Outdoor Safety

  1. If you must venture outdoors, ensure that each member of your household has a warm coat, gloves or mittens, hat, and water-resistant, low-heeled boots with sure-grip soles. Layered clothing and a hat to prevent rapid heat loss are good bets. Be sure to cover exposed skin to prevent frostbite.
  2. Those who have vision problems should wear sunglasses to protect sensitive eyes against winter glare. Also, if you are troubled by night vision problems, remember that it gets dark much earlier in the winter than other times of year so plan accordingly.
  3. If you have mobility and balance difficulties, be extra cautious while walking. Watch for slippery patches and don't overload your arms or it will be difficult to keep your balance. If possible, walk on the sidewalks. If you use a cane, a walker or other mobility aid, find out if your aid can be safely used during winter conditions.
  4. Those who suffer from MS fatigue during the mildest of days should prepare to rest often during the worst of the winter months. Try to avoid fatigue and exhaustion during cold weather. For example, overexertion when shoveling snow can strain the heart, and can also set you up for a possible exacerbation of symptoms.
  5. Winterize your car and stay tuned for storm warnings. Try to keep your gas tank near full to prevent a frozen fuel line. Carry extra clothing, blankets and high-energy snack bars in your car in the event your car stalls or weather conditions leave you stranded.
  6. If at all possible, don't travel alone. It's always good to have a companion with you in case the worst happens. It's doubly important for those who are weak from MS to have someone travel with you out-of-doors.
  7. Consider investing in a mobile digital/cellular phone so that you can call for help. Some of the major carriers have low monthly rate plans for those who primarily want the use of a car phone for infrequent and urgent calls. Just be sure to read the fine print. These companies tend to have "free phone" promotions but require a 6-month to 2-year contract obligation.
  8. Assemble a "Disaster Supplies Kit" for your car (See Indoor Safety Tip number "6" ).
In Case of Emergency

In a 1997 report, the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension offered this advice for dealing with hazardous weather:

"Be prepared for energy problems. Heavy snows and high winds can often cause power outages, so keep energy supplies in an easily accessible place. Emergency supplies should include candles or a lantern, a battery powered radio, a flashlight with fresh batteries and a supply of extra, ready-to-eat food. If power fails for an extended period, turn off all electrical appliances, keep your refrigerator and freezer door closed, draw curtains to preserve heat, and turn water on to a trickle so pipes won't freeze. If possible, call the power company to report the outage."
Of course, power outages are not the only emergencies inherent in severe weather. There are many people with MS who struggle to pay continually rising heating bills, or suffer at the hands of absent landlords who don't provide adequate heating and maintenance. There are a few things that neighbors and care partners can keep in mind to assist those who may need emergency aid this winter.
  1. The first step is to gather information. Community services are available by phone or on the Internet through private and government sources. Check out information about emergency shelter and help with heating bills.
  2. Note all services offered by community programs, the application process, waiting lists, income guidelines and fees that may be involved. If you need to bring in documents to apply for an emergency service, find out ahead of time which ones are acceptable.
  3. Find out how to report landlords who fail to maintain warm and safe tenant dwellings as required by local/state ordinances.
  4. Medical information, such as medications, names and phone numbers of doctors, should be readily available in case of an emergency.
  5. Some larger cities, such as Chicago, have emergency phone numbers that residents can call if they are in need of special services (for example, city-funded shelters and warming centers).
By taking appropriate precautions, planning ahead, and making good use of community services, navigating through winter's weather hazards can be as smooth as a sleigh ride.

References for this Article and Further Reading

The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) Clearinghouse Web site is an information service for state, tribal and local LIHEAP providers, and others interested in low-income energy issues. This site is a supplement to the LIHEAP-related information currently provided through its toll-free phone line (888-294-8662)

Govbot: Government search engine. GovBot has gathered a million and a half web pages from U.S. Government and Military sites around the country. You can search the GovBot database by using their web form.

If this is your first time searching their site, you may find the form a little complicated. To make it easier, note the following example (The words I typed in the search form appear in bold type)

Example: to search for emergency shelters in the state of Illinois:

1) Enter the terms you would like to QUERY: emergency shelter

2) Select "REQUIRE" (in/from) the doc's. "TITLE": Illinois

NOTE: I received 16 results that provided information on emergency shelters in Illinois.

Health and Human Services Partner Gateway This Gateway for Partner Organizations provides a roadmap to HHS resources both on and off the Web.

St. Louis County Health Cold Weather Precautions

Cold Weather Safety by Holly Tatnall, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, 4-H Youth/Consumer and Family Education, Eagle County, November 1997

American Red Cross - Disaster Services - Winter Storm

AARP - Long-Distance Caregiving

NOTE: This article is presented for general information purposes only and is not intended as a prescription or recommendation for your personal situation. You should consult with your physician or other health care professional for specific advice on your personal health care choices.