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Spinal Cord Injury Paralysis Resource Center

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Top 23 Winter Survival Tips for People Living with Paralysis

Snowy Sidewalks

We asked three wheelchair users familiar with cold climate conditions to provide some general safety tips for people living with paralysis this winter season.

Candace Cable
She is the Executive Director of Turning Point Tahoe, which creates outdoor recreation and environmental education for people with disabilities in the Truckee/Tahoe area. Candace says, "I'm enjoying my 22nd winter in a wheelchair staying safe and warm." Read Candace's blog, Heart & Nerve in our Reeve Foundation Paralysis Community.

Tom Hernon
He is living with a T-10 spinal cord injury, a former cold weather specialist in the United States Marine Corps and developer of Back to Sports, a company that helps people with SCI get "back to life" by participating in sporting activities. Read more about Tom in Sporting Back to Life.

Craig Kennedy
He is living with a spinal cord injury and president and co-founder of Access Anything, a leader in adaptive sports and adventure travel for people living with disabilities.

Cotton kills!
- Invest in good quality outer wear. Stick to name brands like The North Face, Patagonia, Hot Chillys, and Obermeyer.
- Dress in layers. Wear loose, lightweight, warm clothing in several layers. Trapped air between the layers acts as an insulator and layers can be removed to avoid perspiration and subsequent chill. (Remember, layers can always be taken off.)
- Avoid cotton, when it gets wet, it stays wet. Search and rescue teams stress that cotton once wet stays wet allowing hyperthermia to set in quickly. Instead, try clothing made from moisture-wicking fabric like Under Armour, polypropylene or any man- made fibers. Better yet, wool will still keep the body temperature up, even when wet.

Keeping your hands warm
- Mittens for hands if opening fingers is challenging.
- Carry two pairs of gloves with you at all times in the likelihood that one pair gets wet. Make sure the gloves are lined for the best protection.
- Wet, cold hands cause a chill to set in quicker. If hands become cold put them under arms in arm pit or crotch area to warm rapidly. These areas are the warmest parts of body.

down waterproof covers over his shoes to keep his feet warm as he cross country skis

Candace Cable's friend, Jon, putting his down waterproof covers over his shoes to keep his feet warm as he cross country skis.

Stay frostbite free
- Head, feet and hands lose heat the quickest. Always wear a hat or cap on your head since half of your body heat could be lost through an uncovered head.
- If participating in outdoor sports, wear a full head mask, helmet, and neck warmer.
- It's very 1980s, yes, but both men and women can keep calves warm with leggings.
- Use something like Grabber warmers that can be put in pockets and gloves to keep hands warm. These are not good for feet because you can't regulate the heat.
- Boot warmers can be very helpful keeping feet warm and dry. Remember to check skin when first using boot warmers. Hotronic is a good product.

Skin protection especially when it's cold
- Wear sunscreen! Even in the winter, sunburn is possible. When the sun reflects off the snow, severe sunburn can occur, especially under your nose and the bottom of your ears.
- Apply Vaseline to the areas of your face that are not going to be covered. It acts as a moisture insulator and helps prevent your face from getting dry or chapped in the cold air.
- Frostbitten skin feels cold to the touch and skin may feel numb. If skin turns white or grayish-yellow, frostbite can be suspected. Move to a warm area and cover the affected area with something warm and dry. Never rub it!
- Consistently check for any exposed skin. Shirts and jackets have a tendency to roll up on the back of wheelchairs.

Snowy Sidewalks

Tires made from a soft rubber work best for gripping snow and ice.

Snow tires for your wheelchair?
- You should invest in snow tires for both your wheelchair and car. Tires made from a soft rubber work best for gripping snow and ice.
- For your wheelchair, mountain bike tires can be used as they have more traction.
- For your car, snow tires are important because they have tread patterns that are designed to grab onto snow and ice. They also help to prevent from getting stuck.
- Never use cruise control while driving in the winter. The time it takes to remove the cruise control is enough to send a vehicle spinning out of control.

Dealing with dehydration
- Hydration is critical in winter weather. When the body gets dehydrated cold sets in more easily. Skin becomes dried out from heating and cold temps more so then in summer.
- You can become dehydrated much more quickly in dry climates and high altitudes. Keep your body oxygenated by drinking lots of water.

What should be in your survival kit?
- When traveling in winter weather, have a survival kit in your vehicle or backpack. The kit should include water, matches, food, shovel, flashlight, blankets, sleeping bag, and flares. Storms roll in quickly and getting stranded in a snow storm can be cold and dangerous. (Of course, make sure your cell phone is charged and you have a full tank of gas.)
- Batteries lose 60% of their charge when the temperature reaches 0 degrees. Keep batteries warm with covers.

Make you own boot

homemade combo boots before and after

Candace's homemade combo boots before and after.

Candace Cable created a specialized snow boot.

She used a boiled wool slipper from Norway. "I had it made from a child's slipper I saw in a store," explains Candace. "I contacted the person that made it and asked them to make some for me." Boiled wool slippers can also be found online.

"The hard, flat, white piece is plastic. The tall cover is made of a water proof material that I again had made to cover the slipper."

To assemble all the pieces together, Candace says, "First the tall outer cover, then the plastic, and then the slipper, and of course my foot goes in the slipper. The idea is if it doesn't exist create it!"

Let it snow
Watch our video on adaptive skiing and read about winter sports for people living with paralysis.

AAHD NewsletterThe American Association on Health and Disability published this Spring 2004 article, "Preventing Pressure Sores," in their Health and Disability Newsletter.

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Wheelchair and Equipment Donations (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Skin-Pressure Sores (PDF)

Assistive Technology (AT) Resources: Proper fit of a wheelchairThe National Academy of Neuropsychology (NAN) has compiled a list of various Assistive Technology (AT) resource agencies around the nation, including resources on driver education, independent living, state agencies, mobility equipment and more.

Aquila Wheelchair CushionsThe Aquila Corporation offers a line of alternating pressure wheelchair cushions along with a two-zone static manual inflate cushion. These cushions are designed to meet pressure relief needs thereby helping to prevent pressure sores from developing down the road.

BrunoBruno Independent Living Aids has become known for its: power chairs, scooters, high quality stair lifts and Turning Automotive Seating.

Craig Hospital: Aching ShouldersWith funding from the US Department of Education's National Institute on Disability & Rehabilitation Research, has developed educational materials to help people with spinal cord injuries live in the community maintain their health. Topics include skin care, exercise, heart disease, weight control, alcohol abuse and conditions related to the aging body.

Craig Hospital: Upper-Extremity PainWith funding from the US Department of Education's National Institute on Disability & Rehabilitation Research, has developed educational materials to help people with spinal cord injuries live in the community maintain their health. Topics include skin care, exercise, heart disease, weight control, alcohol abuse and conditions related to the aging body.

ColoursFor people who like to think outside the box, check out the chairs put out by Colours In Motion.

decubitus.orgNational Decubitus Foundation

emedicine.comeMedicine: Decubitus Ulcers

e.motionA standard manual wheelchair can get extra help with special rims containing small yet powerful motors.

findarticles.comGale Encyclopedia of Medicine: Bedsores

familydoctor.orgFamily Doctor.org's Pressure Sores

Frog LegsFrog Legs Inc. makes a product that makes mobility a much smoother experience. A flexible hinge allows the castor wheels on wheelchairs to move more easily over bumps and obstacles thereby reducing the impact normally felt by the person seated. Think of them as shock absorbers for your wheelchair.

MedlinePlusStart here with 750 topics on conditions, diseases and wellness. MedlinePlus will direct you to information to help answer health questions. MedlinePlus brings together authoritative information from NLM, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and other government agencies and health-related organizations. Preformulated MEDLINE searches are included in MedlinePlus and give easy access to medical journal articles. MedlinePlus also has extensive information about drugs, an illustrated medical encyclopedia, interactive patient tutorials, and latest health news.

merck.comMerck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy: Pressure Sores

KCIKinetic Concepts Inc. (KCI) offers a "Wound Management Reference Guide."

The Jay CushionSunrise Medical produces a cushion for wheelchairs called The Jay which is filled with a slow-flowing gel. The Jay addresses posture, skin and functional needs.

National Library of Medicine (NLM)Offers deep resources on numerous medical conditions.

npuap.orgNPUAP stands for National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel. Visit their website to learn about some of the panel's latest research and recommendations.

Preservation of Upper Limb Function: What You Should KnowClinical Practice Guidelines developed by the Consortium for Spinal Cord Injury, of which the Reeve Foundation is a steering committee member. The primary guidelines are targeted to health care professionals. A consumer guide, “Preservation of Upper Limb Function: What You Should Know” was recently released. The publications are available at no cost from the Paralyzed Veterans of America.

PermobilPermobil produces chairs ideal for those requiring the flexibility to constantly change positions. Technology and comfort combine to allow for active sitting.

Pride MobilityFor tight and precise control, Pride Mobility Products Corporation makes the very popular Jazzy Power Chairs.

Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago: Wheelchair Seating & PositioningHaving mobility is an important factor in being able to lead a productive and fulfilling life. If an individual is unable to walk, an appropriate mobility base and seating system are imperative to enhance the ability to interact and perform functional skills.

ROHOThe ROHO is a brand of cushion seats designed for protection and comfort. Each cushion is based on a support system of evenly distributed air.

The Spinal Cord Injury Information Network: Wheelchairs & SeatingInformation on seating and positioning.

spinalcord.orgHere is the National Spinal Cord Injury Association's fact sheet on skin care.

spinalinjury.netSpinal Injury.net's Pressure Sores

SCI-Info Pages: Skin CareFrom the SCI-Info-Pages: Spinal Cord Injury: Skin and Pressure Sores Synopsis

Spinlife.comOnline durable medical equipment (including wheelchairs and cushions).

SportaidOnline catalog for durable medical equipment.

travisroyfoundation.orgTravis Roy Foundation: Pressure Sores

TiLiteTitanium wheelchairs; lightweight and strong.

UCP Wheels for HumanityA non-profit organization that refurbishes donated wheelchairs and hand fits them to children and adults with disabilities in developing nations.

Wheelchairjunkie.comA resourceful and opinionated website owned and operated by self-described "power chair gonzo" Mark E. Smith, who also designs power chairs for Pride Mobility Products. Says Smith, "WheelchairJunkie.com is about mobility, not manufacturers, so the voices expressed here represent only users."

VAC TherapyVacuum Assisted Closure (VAC) Therapy: An Advanced System for Wound Healing.

WheelchairNetA federally funded virtual community for people who have an interest in wheelchair technology.

Wheelchair FoundationOver 100 million of the world's citizens today are deprived of mobility because of warfare, disease, disaster or advanced age. The wheelchairs they need simply to get across the street - or across the room - are out of reach. The Wheelchair Foundation believes that these people deserve the independence and dignity that comes with owning a wheelchair, regardless of their nationality. This is a nonprofit organization leading an international effort to deliver a wheelchair to every man, woman and child in the world who needs one. For those individuals, the Wheelchair Foundation offers freedom, self-reliance, mobility and hope.

Whirlwind Wheelchair InternationalWhirlwind Wheelchair International (WWI) is the communications hub of the Whirlwind Wheelchair Network of independent wheelchair-producing workshops in developing countries. Founded in 1989 as the Wheeled Mobility Center (WMC), WWI's primary mission is 1) to teach wheelchair riders in developing countries to design, build, and repair their own wheelchairs; 2) to enable rider/builders to create businesses for the manufacture and distribution of wheelchairs to others; and 3) to foster the ever-widening Whirlwind Network of rider/builders around the world who exchange ideas for the continuous improvement of wheelchair design.

World Wide Wheelchairs & Used Medical EquipmentScott Dier began this company in July 1998. He wanted to sell a hearing aid on the Internet. Then people started asking about wheelchairs and other medical equipment! Mr. Dier then proceeded to look for equipment around North America and found many items available. World Wide Wheelchairs exploded into a company that was needed throughout the world! They have sent medical equipment and wheelchairs to India, Saudi Arabia, Chile, Japan, Mexico, Jamaica, Canada, England, Brazil and all over the U.S. and the U.S. Military.

Wheelchair AccessoriesClick on this link to see how you can accessorize your chair or scooter and improve matters. Backpacks, cupholders, trays, canopies and umbrellas are just a few examples.

Paralysis Resource Center The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm ET. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

Reeve Foundation Online Paralysis Community Connecting people living with paralysis, families, friends and caregivers so we can share support, experience, knowledge, and hope.

Quality of Life Grants DatabaseFind resources within the PRC Quality of Life Grants Database. Search by Zip Code, State or an Entire Category.

Library Books and VideosFind resources within the PRC library catalog.

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The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Eastern U.S. Time. International callers use 973-467-8270. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

This project was supported, in part by grant number 90PR3002, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship areencouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.