November 28

Winter Cold and Older Adults

By Rick Banas of Gardant Management Solutions

The Weather Channel is predicting that Mother Nature will have a split personality this winter. Overall, The Weather Channel says we can expect cold and wet conditions in parts of the northern states and warm and dry conditions across the southern tier of the country.

The greatest risk of colder temperatures will be in early winter, according to the long-range forecast for December through February.

Cold weather can cause hypothermia, says the National Institute on Aging.  Older adults are among those who are especially vulnerable because of a diminished ability to endure long periods of exposure to cold temperatures.  Older adults often make less body heat because their metabolisms are slower and because they are less physically active.  Certain diseases such as diabetes, thyroid problems, Parkinson’s Disease, arthritis and some medications, including over-the-counter cold remedies, can make it harder for your body to stay warm.

Some older adults can even develop hypothermia after exposure to relatively mild cold weather or a small drop in temperature.

With hypothermia, your body temperature drops to dangerously low levels.  Among older adults, significant health problems can occur when the body temperature drops below 95 degrees.  Hypothermia can cause a heart attack, problems with your kidneys and damage to your liver.  It can cost you your life.

Based on information from the National Institute on Aging and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, here are some things you can do.

10 Things You Can Do

  1. Set the temperature in your home or apartment to at least 68 degrees. Be sure to check the temperature often.  If you are concerned about being able to afford the cost of heating your home or apartment, you may be able to get help paying your heating bill through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The requirements can vary from state-to-state. Contact the National Energy Assistance Referral Service toll-free at 1-866-674-6327 (TTY 1-866-367-6228) or e-mail to get more information or visit their website.
  2. Eat well-balanced meals. Do not drink alcoholic or caffeinated beverages as they cause your body to lose heat more rapidly.
  3. Dress in layers as the air between the layers help you keep warm. Wear wool, silk or polypropylene inner layers because these fabrics hold in heat better than cotton.  Wear a hat or cap.
  4. Wear long johns under your clothes. Throw a blanket over your legs.  Wear socks and slippers.
  5. Wear long johns under your pajamas. Use extra covers.  Wear a cap or hat when in bed.
  6. Stay inside when it is very windy outside. A high wind can quickly lower your body temperature.
  7. Finds ways to stay active.
  8. Talk with your doctor about any health problems and medicines that can make hypothermia a special problem for you.
  9. Ask relatives, friends or neighbors to check on you frequently, especially when the weather conditions are extremely cold.
  10. Know the signs of hypothermia and watch for them.

Signs of Hypothermia

  • Pale skin, cold feet and hands
  • Puffy or swollen face
  • Shivering
  • Slower speech, slurring words
  • Acting sleepy
  • Anger or confusion
  • Trouble walking or moving
  • Clumsiness
  • Stiff or jerky arm or leg movements
  • Slow, irregular heartbeat
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Blacking out, loss of consciousness

If you think someone has signs of hypothermia, call 911 and get medical attention immediately.

Until medical help arrives, get the person into a warm room or shelter.  Wrap the person in a blanket.  Warm the center of the body first.  Do not rub the person’s arms or legs, do not use a heating pad, and do not try to warm the person in a bath.

Keep in mind that during cold weather emergencies our assisted living communities serve as warming shelters for older adults. Click here for a list of communities.

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