Feeling cold isn’t just a temporary discomfort for many older folks. It can make them sick and even lead to death. Older adults can lose body heat faster than when they were young.
Changes in the body that come with aging can make it harder for them to even know they are getting cold. These conditions can lead to life-threatening hypothermia.
Hypothermia is what happens when your body temperature gets very low.For an older person, a body temperature colder than 95°F can cause many health problems, such as a heart attack, kidney problems, liver damage or worse.
Living in a cold house or apartment can cause hypothermia. Hypothermia can even happen to someone in a nursing home or group facility if the rooms are not kept warm enough. If someone
you know is in a group facility, pay attention to the inside temperature and to whether that person is dressed warmly enough. Chelsea Senior Living communities monitor temperatures closely throughout their buildings including resident apartments.
People who are sick may have special problems keeping warm. An inside temperature between 60 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit may not be warm enough to keep older people safe, especially if they live alone because no one else is there to feel the chilliness or observe symptoms of hypothermia.
Early signs of hypothermia:
• Cold feet and hands
• Puffy or swollen face
• Pale skin
• Shivering (in some cases the person with hypothermia does not shiver)
• Slower than normal speech or slurring words
• Acting sleepy
• Being angry or confused
Later signs of hypothermia:
• Moving slowly, trouble walking, or being clumsy
• Stiff and jerky arm or leg movements
• Slow heartbeat
• Slow, shallow breathing
• Blacking out or losing consciousness
Call 911 right away if you think someone has warning signs of hypothermia.
Using a space heater to warm a room might sound like a good idea. But, some space heaters are fire hazards, and others can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Your local fire department or a friend or family member can help assess the risk of using a space heater in a home. Never use your stove or oven as a heat source!
Seasonal depression is another possible by-product of a long, cold winter. Also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, it can have a profound effect on activities of daily living and energy levels for
people of all ages. Extended feelings of depression require a visit to the doctor.
Finally, keep it moving! Stay active in the winter by walking indoors or even safely outdoors given the right weather conditions. Having said that, walking on streets and sidewalks that are icy or snow-covered can be a hazard for anyone, so be extra careful when walking outside. Physical activity promotes balance and strength which minimize the risk of falls.
Contact Linda Caminiti at The Chelsea at Warren, 908-903-0911, for guidance on health and safety issues for seniors and for information on our Assisted Living, Independent Living and Memory Care programs.