Stay warm by staying in the house.
That's the most common advice county agencies have for senior citizens on how to survive this winter's frigid temperatures.
But a week of staying at home can produce its own problems -- like what to do when there's only one can of soup left in the pantry, or no more heart medication.
"People who have such emergencies can call the Senior Information and Assistance Program," said Barbara Harris, individual services coordinator for the program operated by the county's Office on Aging. "If they call us first, we can take a broad look at the problem and then we will contact the most appropriate agency which can assist."
The helpers include the county's Department of Social Services, FISH (Friends in Self Help), the Community Action Council and Grassroots, all of which work together to provide help for everything from lack of heat to lack of food.
Topping the Office on Aging's winter survival advice is a list of tips for preventing hypothermia, or low body temperature, which can be deadly. Many seniors are vulnerable to this condition, especially those who are diabetic, live in a cold house, take certain medications, have a poor diet, have had a stroke or drink alcohol.
Signs of hypothermia include confusion, difficulty in speaking, slow breathing and sleepiness.
Here are a few ways to prevent hypothermia by dressing warmly:
* Wear warm fabrics. Wool is a good insulator and will keep the body warmer than will cotton, especially when damp or wet. Quilted clothing filled with down or synthetic fibers also is good.
* Wear several layers of loose clothing to trap warm air around the body. Mittens keep hands warmer than do gloves.
* Change socks and long underwear if they are damp or wet.
* When outdoors, wear a hat and a windproof outer layer. If hands and feet are cold, a hat will allow the body to send warm blood to the extremities; the neck should also be covered with a scarf.
* At bedtime, wear a nightcap and preheat a cold bed with hot water bottles, heating pads or electric blankets.
Even when clothed warmly, seniors may feel cold and be tempted to turn on their ovens, especially if there is a malfunctioning furnace.
Sgt. Dennis Beard, a fire education specialist with the Howard County Fire and Rescue Services, cautions seniors to avoid using kitchen ranges and ovens for alternative heat.
"Kitchen stoves are not designed to heat houses," he said. "If you are using wood stoves or electric heaters -- which I don't recommend in the first place -- don't place flammable materials near them; kerosene heaters should be refueled outside and there should be proper ventilation inside the house."
Another major concern for senior citizens in the winter is maintaining an adequate supply of food and beverages. A poor diet can increase the risk of hypothermia, authorities warn.
Jeanette Lazarofsky, program administrator for the county's Meals on Wheels program, suggests that seniors keep a stock of canned items in case they are unable to get to a grocery store.
Among the most useful items: powdered or canned milk; soups or stews; meat or fish; juices; vegetables and fruit (can be dried); instant or ready-to-eat cereals; peanut butter, jelly or jam; instant coffee; tea; cocoa.
Canned items, rather than frozen, are more practical because some older adults may not have convenient appliances, such as a microwave, or may not be physically able to operate them, she said.
And in some cases, delivery businesses can help when seniors are homebound because of the weather.
In addition to Meals on Wheels, a private, nonprofit, volunteer-run group, a number of commercial businesses deliver food and other products to home-bound seniors.
Teleshopping Services, Inc., for example, is a nationwide delivery service that includes Valu Food Supermarkets among its clients and has headquarters in Columbia.
Nicholas Soufi, vice president of operations for the Columbia office, said the business experienced a "very sharp increase" during last week's polar weather.
"Luckily, we have been able to take care of everyone," he said. Mr. Soufi recommended that customers prepare by "watching for bad weather" and placing their orders one day in advance, if possible.
The service costs $9.95 per order and the company delivers groceries from Valu Food to customers in Howard County east of Route 32.
Another delivery service, Grocery Getters Shopping Service, is run by Lee Hajek and her daughter, Lora Holland, residents of Woodbine, who do grocery shopping for clients in Ellicott City, western Howard County and Columbia west of U.S. Route 29.
Mrs. Hajek said about 80 percent of their clients are seniors, many of whom were stuck indoor last week because of the ice.
The service's deliveries include groceries, prescriptions, mail and newspapers. The costs vary, starting at $9.95 per order.
In addition, the Office on Aging and Meals on Wheels has a network of volunteers to help seniors who are stuck at home.