Hypothermia: What to Look for in Senior Citizens
Many of us know that cold weather brings a number of hazards, but extreme temperatures are another story. When caring for senior citizens, the primary focus tends to be on making sure they do not fall in snow and ice. Although important, ensuring they have enough supplies for a power outage is equally important.
Many of us often forget being in cold temperatures too long can create a slew of issues on its own. Hypothermia, or a dangerously low body temperature 95 degrees or lower, is a serious condition. According the National Institute on Aging, older adults are particularly vulnerable to hypothermic symptoms.
Symptoms of Hypothermia
If the weather in your area is cold, seniors should not spend an extended period of time outdoors; family members should also ensure there is proper heating in the home. Watch for the following signs of hypothermia:
- Shivering, though some elderly adults may not have this symptom
- Unusual irritability
- Trouble speaking
- Stiff muscles
- Slow breathing
- Confusion, forgetfulness, or drowsiness
- Paleness or light blue skin in the extremities
The most important thing to do is to stay calm and get medical assistance as quickly as possible. If the victim is wearing wet clothes, remove them as quickly as possible, then cover exposed skin immediately.
What to Do
If you suspect your elderly friend or loved one is suffering from hypothermia, there are certain dos and don’ts when trying to protect them. After calling for emergency assistance, try to warm the person, but do so slowly. Cover them with extra layers of clothing, blankets, or towels without using too much direct heat. Make sure their head is covered to prevent further heat loss and gradually raise the indoor temperature to a warmer temperature. If the heat in the home is broken, act quickly to find another source of heat, without leaving them alone.
Do not place the person in a hot shower or bath. Doing so will actually make the problem worse. Anything you use to warm the victim should be warm, not hot. If the victim is alert, a warm cup of water, tea, or coffee may help reduce shock and warm the body slowly. Remember alcoholic beverages can make it more difficult for the body to retain heat.
Prevention is Important
To prevent hypothermia, here are a few tips:
- Do not let indoor temperatures dip below 68 degrees.
- Dress warmly, in layers, appropriate for conditions inside and outside the home.
- Keep hands, feet, neck, and head covered in cold temperatures.
- Make sure heat sources are properly installed and clean to prevent the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Drink plenty of fluids and avoid nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine.
- Stay as dry as possible, and move around as much as your physical condition allows.
Healthy living and avoiding harsh conditions are equally important. Physical activity helps raise your body temperature, plus keeping your heart active can helps your extremities stay warm longer. Also, make sure you are getting adequate rest and eating healthy diet, your body needs calories to produce heat. If you’re not eating enough during the winter months, your body may struggle to maintain the correct temperature. When it’s cold outside, keeping the home well-stocked and prepared will help you keep you warm on the coldest nights.
About the Author: Victoria K. Stickley is a copywriter, editor, and senior content manager based in the Dallas area. Her graduate education in counseling and research has helped immensely in her writing as well as the care she provides for her grandparents. She currently provides support and resources to senior care websites as she learns and experiences senior care first-hand.