Cold weather can be dangerous for anyone. However, it can be especially threatening to seniors, as people tend to lose body temperature more quickly as we age. This winter, be sure to keep an eye on your loved ones and follow the tips below to protect seniors from hypothermia.
Hypothermia, a condition that occurs when a person’s body temperature falls below 95 degrees, can cause a heart attack, kidney malfunction and liver damage. Sufferers often become cloudy-headed and don’t realize that they’re having problems until it’s too late to help themselves.
The Warning Signs of Hypothermia in Seniors
It only takes a matter of minutes for symptoms of hypothermia to appear in extremely cold conditions while outdoors. Many people are unaware that seniors are susceptible to problems caused by decreased body temperature, even indoors with the thermostat set as high as 65 degrees. So, it’s important to check in on your loved one frequently to make sure they’re safe and warm when the mercury drops.
Early warning signs of hypothermia in seniors include:
- Feeling cold, especially in the hands and feet
- Swollen face
- Pale skin
- Speech delivered slower or slurring of words
- Confusion, anger, and frustration
Advanced signs of hypothermia:
- Clumsiness or difficulties walking
- Slower than usual heartbeat
- Slow, shallow breathing
- Feeling faint or passing out
If you suspect your senior is suffering from the effects of hypothermia, move them to a warm place, cover them in blankets and seek medical attention immediately.
How to Protect Seniors from Hypothermia
1. Limit Time Outdoors. If temperatures fall below 20 degrees, encourage seniors to stay indoors. Help loved ones with errands whenever possible so they can stay at home. Make sure their sidewalks and driveway are cleared of snow to help ensure safety if they must leave.
2. Dress for the Weather. If your senior must go outside, make sure they’re dressed appropriately. That includes wearing several layers of loose-fitting clothing and a heavy coat. Lastly, don’t forget a scarf and a hat, as a lot of body heat is lost through the head and neck.
3. Maintain a Healthy Diet. It’s important that seniors maintain a proper diet when the weather gets cold to keep up their strength. Hot tea or coffee can help to keep seniors’ body temperatures up. Seniors should avoid alcoholic beverages, which decrease body temperature (contrary to popular belief) and could hide the symptoms of hypothermia.
4. Monitor the Temperature at Home. Even if your senior loved one stays indoors, make sure that their thermostat is set no lower than 68 degrees. Many seniors will try to save money by turning down the thermostat, but the risk may not be worthwhile. Also, check the senior’s home for drafts from inefficient windows or poor insulation.
5. Be Cautious About Space Heaters. Portable space heaters are a common solution for seniors who are trying to warm up, but these can be very dangerous. Misuse could cause burns to the skin, carbon monoxide poisoning, or a fire. The cords can become a tripping hazard if put in the wrong areas. Carefully help your loved one choose a portable heater if needed and inspect the device from time to time for damage to its cord, casing, and stand.
6. Dress Warmly Indoors. During the winter months, it’s a good idea for senior citizens to wear long sleeves, long pants, socks and slippers for extra warmth. Thermal underwear is optimal. Keep blankets handy to cover a senior’s legs while they sit in their favorite chair or lay in bed. It may be beneficial to wear a knit cap while sleeping to prevent body heat from being lost through the head.
7. Check on Seniors Frequently. While it’s always a good idea to check in with older adults on a regular basis, be extra vigilant with seniors who are suffering from an illness or disease, because they may be especially vulnerable to the cold. Whether they have a cold, the flu, or more serious long-term health issues, you can never be too cautious.
Additional Winter Health Considerations for Seniors
Hypothermia isn’t the only issue to be concerned about during the winter months. The cold, dry air can cause seniors’ skin to become irritated and cracked. Being forced to remain indoors can lead to depression. If they do venture outdoors, the ice and snow can contribute to dangerous falls.
Here at Bethesda, we care about your senior loved one’s health and safety. If you need extra support caring for your loved one this winter, contact us to learn more about our Senior Support Solutions program.