Watching Out for Hypothermia
For all of us that live here in Ohio, during the winter months, the cold weather is something to which we may not necessarily enjoy but are accustomed. It’s important to bundle up and stay warm. Especially when it comes to older adults, body heat can be lost faster resulting in a dangerous condition known as hypothermia.
Signs and Symptoms of Hypothermia
Hypothermia happens when the body temperature gets very low. For an older adult, a body temperature of 95°F or lower can cause severe health problems, such as a heart attack, kidney problems, or liver damage. Being outside in the cold, or being in a very cold house, can lead to hypothermia. It’s important to try to stay away from cold places and pay attention to how cold it feels. Hypothermia can come on fast. Recognizing the signs of hypothermia can mean the difference between life and death.
- Cold feet and hands
- Puffy or swollen face
- Pale skin
- Slower than normal speech or slurring words
- Acting sleepy
- Being angry or confused
- Moving slowly, trouble walking, or being clumsy
- Stiff and jerky arm or leg movements
- Slow, shallow breathing
- Blacking out or losing consciousness
Call 9-1-1 right away if you think someone has warning signs of hypothermia.
Steps Seniors Can Take to Reduce the Risk of Getting Hypothermia
Keep Your Home Warm
Set the heat to at least 68–70°F. To save on heat loss and heating costs, close off rooms that are not being used. Close the vents and shut the doors in these rooms and keep the basement door closed.
Avoid Excess Heat loss in Your Home
Make sure the house isn’t losing heat through windows. Keep the blinds and curtains closed. If there are gaps around the windows, try using weather stripping or caulk to keep the cold air out.
Wear Warm Clothing
Wearing multiple warm layers of clothing is a great way for seniors to stay warm in the winter. A thick wool layer such as a sweater is both comfortable and will reduce body heat loss. Use a blanket or fleece while sitting to read or watching TV. Wear warm socks and slippers to avoid excess heat loss in the toes and feet.
Eat to Maintain Your Body Fat
It’s vital to maintain a proper body weight and fat amount. Fat is actually an insulator and helps to prevent heat loss. Inadequate nutrition can lead to a loss of body fat, and this can result in an inability to stay warm.
Reduce Alcohol Intake
It’s a common misconception that alcohol warms you up. However, did you know that alcohol consumption has been shown to cause heat loss by causing your blood vessels to increase in diameter and skin blood flow to increase. This directly results in a decrease in skin and body temperatures.
Watch for Effects of Medications
Medications can affect body heat. These include medicines people get from their doctor as well as those bought over the counter. Ask your healthcare provider if the medications being taken may affect body heat. Always talk with the doctor before stopping any medication.
Develop an Emergency Plan
If a power outage leaves the home without heat, having a proper plan in place can mean the difference between freezing or staying warm. Develop a kit with extra blankets, gloves, and clothes. Set up a place to go to if and when it is needed. Friends and family are great for helping to weather out the cold in times of unexpected heat loss.
For senior adults, staying warm is not only important, it helps to decrease the risk of hypothermia. This winter take the proper steps to reduce body heat loss and keep warm and comfortable.
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