Monday, December 21, 2009

Neuropathy can make winter weather more perilous for older adults


This time of year many children are waiting for Christmas, Santa, and snow. I love snow! There is something magical about those big, fluffy white designs flying through the cold air. Unfortunately for many folks, snow is dreaded instead of anticipated. They fear falling on snow covered sidewalks and steps due to their neuropathy, a nerve disorder that causes pain and numbness in the hands and feet. Neuropathy can be caused by traumatic injury, infection or metabolic diseases such as diabetes.

As a provider of services to older adults, I always worried about the uncovered hands and faces of our consumers suffering damage in the cold months. Neuropathy can cause pain but it also can steal the ability to feel pain caused by heat and cold.

According to the Neuropathy Association, peripheral neuropathy is one of the most common diseases in the U.S. with over 20 million Americans affected by it. There are over 100 known types of peripheral neuropathy, each with its own characteristics and causes. Peripheral neuropathy or “nerve damage” disrupts the body’s ability to communicate with its muscles, skin, joints or internal organs. The association describes neuropathy “like the body’s electrical wiring system breaking down, causing numbness, pain, weakness and poor coordination.” It can occur at any age, but is most common among adults 55 and older.

Neuropathy affects a variety of nerves, including:
  • Sensory nerves that receive feelings such as heat, pain or touch
  • Motor nerves that control how your muscles move
  • Autonomic nerves that control blood pressure, heart rate, digestion and bladder function
The condition shows itself differently from person to person. My intense, burning pain is in my left elbow which hurts but does not prevent me from doing any one task. The lesser pain in both my feet burns and tingles at times and has resulted in unflattering leg splits on the icy and snowy sidewalks. Others feel nothing in their feet; it's like having concrete blocks for feet, which causes them to lose their balance and coordination.

Some people have hands that tingle with pain all day and night while others have fingers that freeze (lock) into uncomfortable positions for long periods of time. Whatever the symptoms, cold temperatures and beautiful snowy days can make life difficult for those with this chronic condition.

So dress warmly, get plenty of Vitamin A and B-12 to protect your nerves, eat a nutritionally balanced diet, and control your blood sugars as preventative measures for peripheral neuropathy. Then get outside and enjoy the miracle of snow!

If you want to learn more about peripheral neuropathy go to the following sites:

Helen Dillon
Helen Dillon
Project Director


Ron said...

Taking vitamins, and being aware of what is needed when it is cold, can be extremely helpful for those suffering from neuropathy. Thanks for the informative blog, I am sure this will help many people this winter.

Anonymous said...

This is going to be my first Winter since being diagnosed with progressive peripheral neurapathy; very cold in NYC today! My hands and feett are cold - had my gloves on at the bus stop. The pains I get are usually on the soles of my where I swear I could see a few fibers like the ones on cactus plants! One of my co-worker said it was nerve endings. My skin burns regularly; especially the outer side of my left elbow. There are dark marks on my right leg - even missing hair on my legs since I've fine hairs that I've never shaved. I take 100mg of GABAPENTIN AKA NEURONTIN and B-Complex vitamins. My doctor may need to increase the dosage or give referral to other specialist because I see white spot on my legs which is either loss of pigmentation or burned out nerves!