In cold weather some older people are at risk for hypothermia, a drop in internal body temperature that can be fatal if not detected and treated. "Older people may not be aware they are becoming cold as readily as younger people, and their bodies may not adjust to changes in temperature," said CareLink Outreach Manager Debbie Gillespie.
Although there are no accurate data on the number of elderly persons dying of this condition, it is estimated that about 10 percent of all persons over 65 have some sort of temperature-regulating defect. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) estimates that over 2.5 million older Americans are especially vulnerable to hypothermia.
Here are some tips to keep older people warm and well during spells of cold weather:
Have regular hot drinks and eat at least one hot meal a day if possible. Eating regularly helps keep energy levels up during winter.
Wear several light layers of warm clothes (rather than one chunky layer).
To keep warm inside, wear long underwear under your clothes, along with socks and slippers. Use a blanket or afghan to keep legs and shoulders warm and wear a hat or cap indoors.
Make sure your home is warm enough. Set your thermostat to at least 68 to 70 degrees. Even mildly cool homes with temperatures from 60 to 65 degrees can trigger hypothermia in older people.
If you can’t heat all the rooms you use, heat the living room during the day and the bedroom just before you go to sleep.
Check with your doctor to see if any medications (prescription or over the counter) you are taking may increase your risk for hypothermia.
Keep as active in your home as possible.
Use extra blankets because hypothermia can develop during sleep.
Get proper rest; fatigue makes you more vulnerable to subnormal heat and cold.
Drink adequate amounts of liquids, such as water. Limit your alcohol intake because alcohol speeds up body heat loss.
Icy pavements can be very slippery. Wrap up warm and wear shoes with a good grip on the soles if you need to go outside on cold days.
Put cat litter on paths and driveways to lessen the risk of slipping.
If you live alone, arrange for a daily check-in call with a friend, neighbor or relative.
"Caregivers can help by making sure their family members and friends are aware of the dangers of getting too cold," said Gillespie. "If you are concerned after calling to check on an older relative or friend, visit them in person to see if they are in danger of hypothermia."
The best way to identify someone with hypothermia is to look for confusion or sleepiness, slowed or slurred speech, shivering or stiffness in the arms and legs, weak pulse, poor control over body movements or slow reactions. If you suspect that someone is suffering from the cold and you have a thermometer available, take his or her temperature. If it’s 96 degrees or lower, call 911 for emergency help.
Last year more than 17,500 people in Faulkner, Lonoke, Monroe, Prairie, Pulaski and Saline counties were CareLinked with information and resources to help them stay active and in their own homes, avoiding more costly care. Older people and their caregivers can get the information and assistance they need from CareLink at 501-372-5300, toll-free 800-482-6359 or by visiting carelink.org.