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Cold to the Bone: Prevention and caring for hypothermia in aging adults

January 2, 2018

In Western Oklahoma, January brings shorter and colder days. The average low temperature for the area dips to 25 degrees Fahrenheit, not to mention 15 mile per hour winds and inches of snowfall. All of this can combine to create difficult conditions for seniors.


One of the most most worrying conditions seniors can be especially susceptible to is hypothermia. This is because as we age, we lose our body heat faster. Hypothermia is a dangerous drop in core body temperature, and it can occur when it is too cold outside or the body cannot produce the needed heat to function. Seniors with chronic medical conditions are even more at risk for this condition.


Fortunately, there are several things that can be done to work at preventing hypothermia. Several measures can be taken inside and outdoors to assist in your safety.


Keep your home warm


Make sure your home is warm enough. The thermostat should be set to 68 degrees Fahrenheit or higher to ensure that it does not get too cold.


You can also close off doors to rooms that are not in use and put rolled up towels in the front of all doors to keep out drafts. This will also aid in keeping down your energy bills.


Be sure that you aren't losing heat through the windows. This can be done by making sure blinds and windows are closed, along with caulking any gaps.


Dress appropriately


When dressing for time spent indoors, be sure to wear long underwear beneath your clothes. Slippers or socks should also be worn, and it is always good practice to have a blanket handy.


When dressing for time spent outdoors, wear loose layers of clothing. The air between the layers helps trap in the heat. Also be sure to wear gloves, a jacket, a hat, and a scarf. If it is snowing or raining, make sure to wear a waterproof coat.


Monitor medications


Talk with your doctor about any over the counter or prescription medications you take. Sometimes these medications can increase your risk for hypothermia.


If possible, be sure to avoid alcohol. Though the sensation of alcohol can produce a warm feeling, it actually makes your body lose heat faster.


Have someone check on you


Be sure to have someone check on you periodically to ensure that you are okay and are not developing the symptoms of hypothermia. If you need to go somewhere, let someone know where you are going. And when you do travel outdoors, be sure to keep a fully charged cellphone on your person in case of emergency. 


Symptoms of hypothermia


If you or someone you love or care for experiences any of the following symptoms, it may be related to hypothermia:

  • A core body temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit or lower

  • Weak pulse

  • Slow reactions

  • Poor control of body movements

  • Shivering or stiffness in the arms and legs

  • Sleepiness or confusion

  • Slowed or slurred speech

If these symptoms are present, call 911 immediately. The person must be assessed in the hospital to determine whether hypothermia is taking place.  After you call 911, be sure to move the person to a warm place and wrap them in a warm blanket, coat, or towel. A warm drink can be provided, but it cannot contain alcohol or caffeine. Do not rub the person, place them in a warm bath, or use a heating pad.


If you have any concerns about hypothermia and how to prevent it, contact your doctor. They can assist you with any information you would like to know.

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