Weather Wise – Keeping Seniors Safe During Winter’s Extremes
It’s early January and we’ve just been through a spell of extreme winter weather. During the week of the Polar Vortex, there were 21 cold related deaths reported in the U.S. Some were related to shoveling snow, and some were homeless people who chose not to come in out of the cold, or tried and did not get inside fast enough.
All this brings up a good time to review the measures we should take in caring for an older adult during the winter months. Older adults require more awareness on our part to assure they are properly attired and warm, so that they do not develop hypothermia.
What is Hypothermia?
Defined as having a core body temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, hypothermia can occur when the outside environment gets too cold or the body’s heat production decreases. Older adults are especially vulnerable because their bodies’ response to cold can be compromised by medical conditions such as diabetes and by use of some medicines, including over-the-counter cold remedies. Hypothermia can develop in older adults after relatively short exposure to cold weather or even a small drop in temperature.
What are the Signs of Hypothermia?
Be aware of slowed or slurred speech; sleepiness or confusion; shivering or stiffness in the arms and legs; poor control over body movements; slow reactions, or a weak pulse.
Some Tips to Help Older Adults Avoid Hypothermia
- Keep the house warm enough. Set the thermostat to at least 68 to 70 degrees. In older adults, even mildly cool homes with temperatures from 60 to 65 degrees can lead to hypothermia.
- Older adults should wear long underwear under their clothes, along with socks and slippers. When indoors, use a blanket or afghan to keep legs and shoulders warm and wear a hat or cap.
- When going outside in the cold, it is important for an older adult to wear a hat, scarf, and gloves or mittens to prevent loss of body heat through their head and hands. Wear several layers of warm loose clothing to help trap warm air between the layers.
- Check with their doctor to see if any prescription or over-the-counter medications you are taking may increase their risk for hypothermia.