With the snow hitting the Northeast hard thanks to lake-effect squalls this past week, senior clients are at an increased risk of hypothermia. Even moderate winter temperatures result in around 19 percent of seniors nationwide being at risk if the temperature drops below 61 degrees, according to a national study conducted by Living Independently Group Inc., creators of QuietCare®, a system that monitors home temperatures and detects patters of daily activity 24 hours a day.
According to the National Institute on Aging, continuous exposure to a constant temperature of 50-65 degrees can cause hypothermia, which occurs when the body temperature drops below 95 degrees — potentially causing many health problems such as heart attack, kidney problems or liver damage.
“Winter can be a dangerous time for seniors who naturally produce less body heat due to normal age-related changes in thermoregulation, slower metabolism and a lower level of physical activity,” said Dr. Robert Roush, director of the Texas Consortium Geriatric Education Center at the Baylor College of Medicine and a member of Living Independently Group’s Medical Advisory Board. “Some elderly people may not remember to keep their homes heated properly or they may be too poor to pay their heating bills. But it doesn’t take extremely low temperatures for an elder to be at risk of hypothermia, which can result in affecting an older person’s ability to think clearly and move well.”
To prevent hypothermia, people older than age 65 should take the following precautions during cold weather:
- Seniors and caregivers should stay in touch regularly during the winter and check the thermostat daily if it is very cold.
- Have seniors’ homes properly insulated.
- Keep seniors’ living areas warm (above 65 degrees).
- Seniors should wear layers of warm clothing to help keep body temperature even.
- If seniors have trouble keeping warm, cover their head and neck, even indoors.
- Be sure to have and use enough warm blankets on hand for the senior.
- Keep a supply of nutritious food on hand that the senior or caregiver can prepare easily.
- Seniors should eat hot meals and drink warm liquids throughout the day.
- Arrange for “meals on wheels” if seniors are unable to cook.
- Avoid alcoholic beverages.
- Check with the doctor to see if any medication the senior takes regularly might increase risk of hypothermia. (Drugs that reduce the body’s ability to respond to cold include tranquilizers, cardiovascular drugs, sedatives and antidepressants.)
- Take seniors’ temperature occasionally.