Senior Citizens and Hypothermia

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Published: 27th October 2009
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Cold weather can be especially risky for senior citizens who may experience a deadly drop in body temperature. This is called hypothermia and occurs when the body temperature falls below 96° F. This drop in temperature can cause irregular heartbeats and even death. It is very important that senior citizens monitor their body temperature and take the appropriate measures to prevent hypothermia. Elder care providers, or people responsible for the care of senior citizens, should also know how to prevent, recognize, and treat hypothermia.


The body's natural reaction to the cold is shivering which can stimulate cells to produce needed heat. However, shivering is not a sign of hypothermia. Here are some symptoms of dangerously low body temperature:

* Confusion and sleepiness

* Slowed slurred speech or shallow breathing

* Weak pulse or low blood pressure

* A change in behavior or looks

* Lots of shivering or stiffness in the extremities

* Chilly rooms or signs that a person has been in a cold place

* Poor control over body movements


If you suspect that someone has hypothermia, you should take their temperature to verify that their body temperature is not above 96° F. After arriving at the hospital, doctors can treat people with hypothermia by injecting the body with warm fluids with an IV. Length of exposure to cold will effect how well someone will recover. While you are waiting for emergency assistance, keep the hypothermic person warm and dry either by moving them to a warmer place or lying close to them. Try not to rub the arms and legs of senior citizens whose skin may be sensitive and easily damaged by that kind of friction.


Here are some ways to prevent hypothermia:

* Try to stay in warm places. Some senior citizens find it harder to monitor when they become too cold so it is best to keep a watch on the temperature of the room.

* Eat enough food to maintain a healthy body weight, this will keep up body fat which helps keep you warm

* Manage illnesses that make it harder for you to stay warm like hormone disorders, diabetes, and some skin problems.

* Wear appropriate clothes. Keep blankets around for people with severe arthritis, paralysis from stroke, cognitive impairment, or injury who may find it harder to move around or dress to stay warm.

* Know about medications that can affect your body temperature and how to avoid accidental hypothermia from these medications.

* Do not drink alcohol before falling asleep when it is colder, sometimes alcohol can make you lose body heat faster.

* Wear layers of loose clothing to trap body heat and maximize circulation of blood.

Staying Warm and Avoiding the High Costs of Energy

Some people use space heaters in order to decrease heating costs, especially when they live alone. Here are some safety tips for using space heaters:

* Choose the right size heater for the space you are heating

* Keep flammable substances away from the heater

* Keep the door to the rest of the building/house open to allow air flow

* Turn the heater off when you go to bed

* Make sure your smoke alarms are working

* Put carbon monoxide detectors on every floor of the house

* Keep a fire extinguisher close by

If you are worried about heating bills to stay warm, contact your power or gas company for information on weatherizing your house in order to keep bills down. You can shut doors and heating vents in rooms that you do not use, for example. You can also qualify for financial assistance from your state or a local agency. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) supports people who have trouble paying for power and heating utilities. There are usually laws that prevent landlords from turning off utilities even if you are unable to pay a bill.

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