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'Snowbirds' Beware the Climate Changes
Date:1/7/2009

Switch to balmier days can be healthy and hazardous for seniors, experts say

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 7 (HealthDay News) --- Seniors who head south each winter to escape the cold often feel better just thinking about the warmer climes.

But there are adjustments to be made to make sure these "snowbirds" stay healthy.

Spending more time outdoors, as well as more time socializing, boosts mood and well being for 65-plus senior travelers, said Barbara Resnick, a board member of the American Geriatric Society and a professor of nursing at the University of Maryland School of Nursing, Baltimore.

A winter spent in warmer locales "certainly can reduce the risk of depression," she said.

Besides boosting mood, a season in the south may also improve overall physical health, Resnick added, since warmer weather tends to improve conditions such as asthma. And of course wintering in Arizona or Florida also cuts seniors' risk of slipping on icy sidewalks -- a major cause of hip fracture and other injuries.

But with the benefits of a move south come some potential risks, Resnick said. Among them:

  • Too much sun exposure. "Skin becomes more sensitive with normal aging," Resnick noted. Some seniors may already have had skin cancers, so they should be especially cautious about their sun exposure.
  • Dehydration from spending more time than usual outdoors in higher temperatures.
  • Heat stroke. This potentially fatal condition occurs when body temperature rises quickly and the body can't cool itself down.
  • A ''vacation" mindset that may lead to seniors engaging in risky behavior such as unsafe sex or excess drinking.

For each potential hazard, however, Resnick offers an easy preventive measure. Wearing sunblock, hats or visors and, if it's not too hot outside, long sleeves and long pants will help.

Some medications, including antibiotics, can make
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