hypothermia and seniors

When the body temperature of older adults drops below 95 degrees it can result in a number of problems, affecting the kidneys, liver, heart and more. Other health concerns, such as arthritis, hypothyroidism, and Parkinson’s disease, as well as some medications, can cause seniors to become cold faster as well. Seniors lose body heat faster than they did when they were younger, and hypothermia can strike within minutes.

The National Institutes of Health recommends the following to keep your senior loved ones safely warm this winter:

  • Keep the thermostat set to at least 68 degrees.
  • Make sure they are dressed warmly on cold days even if they are staying in the house. Throw a blanket over their legs and have them wear socks and slippers.
  • Be sure seniors are eating a well-balanced diet and consuming enough calories to maintain a healthy weight, as body fat helps provide warmth
  • Ask family or friends to check on them during cold weather.
  • Talk with the senior’s doctor about any medications being taken – especially those that treat depression, nausea or anxiety, as well as OTC cold medications, which can increase the risk of hypothermia in seniors

It’s also important to be aware of the warning signs of hypothermia, and seek medical help immediately if hypothermia is suspected.

hypothermia infographic

According to the National Institute on Aging, if you find someone who you think might be experiencing hypothermia, take their temperature. Shake the thermometer down so it reads below the normal body temperature. If the reading doesn’t go above 96 degrees Fahrenheit, call for emergency help or get the person to an emergency room. The hospital will work to raise the person’s internal temperature and monitor the person’s overall health including their heart rate.

If you need to care for someone whose body temperature has dropped, keep the person as warm and dry as possible. Wrap the person in blankets, coats or whatever warm material you can find. Give the person something warm to drink, but avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks.

The NIH describes the signs of hypothermia as the “umbles”: mumbling, fumbling, stumbling, and grumbling

  • Shivering and stiffness (although these are not always present)
  • Weaker pulse
  • Excessive sleepiness or confusion
  • Slowed reaction time and reduced control over body movements

Prevention is always key to keeping loved ones safe and healthy. If your loved one is in an assisted living facility, make sure you have provided them with clothing they can layer such as sweaters or hats, scarves, and slippers. Wearing two or three thinner layers of loose-fitting clothing is warmer than a single layer of thick clothing. Layering can help ward off hypothermia when seniors are going to be outdoors for extended periods of time.

Lastly, Combat social isolation. Make sure they to stay connected with friends and family.  The days are shorter and the dreary weather can cause some people to feel depressed or sad.  At The Inn At Bear Trail we encourage our residents to get involved in the weekly activities we provide. It helps get seniors up and moving and their blood flowing.