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Preventative Measures Against Hypothermia

Did you know that cold weather is especially risky for older people? Seniors tend to have a lower receptive response and can be unaware when their body is experiencing extreme cold. So they should take precautions even if they are only outside for a few minutes on colder days.

The winter chill can reduce the temperature inside the body. That can prove to be fatal if not treated quickly. This loss in body temperature, often caused by staying in a cool place for too long, is called hypothermia. A body temperature below 35° C may seem like just a couple of degrees below the body’s normal temperature of 37°C. But it can be critical. It may cause an irregular heartbeat leading to heart problems and death.

How can you tell if someone has hypothermia? Here are some signs to look for:

  • Confusion or drowsiness Slowed, slurred speech, or shallow breathing
  • A change in behavior during cold weather
  • Excessive shivering-or no shivering
  • Lessened control over body movements or slow reactions.

If you think an older loved one could be experiencing hypothermia, take his or her temperature with a thermometer. If the temperature doesn’t rise above 35° C, call for emergency help. In many areas, that means calling 911. The person must be seen by a doctor and warmed from inside out.

While you are waiting for help to arrive, keep the person warm and dry. Move them to the warmest location available. Wrap the person in blankets, towels, coats, whatever is handy and accessible. Even your own body warmth will help. Lie close, but be gentle. Note; rubbing a person’s arms and legs may make the problem worse. The skin of an older person may be thinner and more easily torn than the skin of someone younger.

When it comes to hypothermia, prevention is the best strategy! Here some tips you should consider:

Limit time spent in cold temperatures. Changes in your body that come with aging can make it harder to feel when you are getting cold. It may be harder for your body to warm itself. Pay attention to how cold it is where you are.

Make sure you eat enough food to maintain a healthy weight. Body fat helps us stay warm. Being underweight puts us at higher risk of cold-related illness.
See your doctor to keep any illnesses under control. Some illnesses may make it harder for your body to stay warm. These include low thyroid, diabetes, and some skin problems. Other conditions make it harder to put on more clothes, use a blanket, or move out of the cold. Such conditions include arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, memory disorders, stroke or other conditions illnesses that affect movement and thinking clearly.

Ask your doctor how the medicines you are taking affect body heat. Some medicines often used by older people also increase the risk of accidental hypothermia. These include drugs used to treat anxiety, depression, or nausea.
Wear several layers of loose clothing when it is cold. The layers will trap warm air between them. Tight clothing may prevent your blood from flowing freely, which leads to loss of body heat.

Stay warm inside and outside. Even indoors, your health, your age, what you eat or drink, even your clothes can make it hard for you to stay safely warm. People can get cold enough inside a building to get very sick. Homes or apartments that are not adequately heated can lead to illness. Set your thermostat for at least 20° C. If a power outage leaves you without heat, stay with a relative or friend or move to another warm location.

Originally posted on our newsletter here.




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