Cold Weather Tips for Seniors
It's getting chilly - and that means higher heating bills and sweaters. How can you keep your elderly family members warm and safe this season? And what about hypothermia? What is it and how can you detect, prevent, and handle it?
Prevent Hypothermia Inside the Home
- Always make sure your family member’s thermostat is set to 68 degrees or more.
- If you want to save money on heating costs:
- Close off rooms that are not used often
- Place rolled blankets or towels on the floor of any infrequently used entrance doors to block drafts
- Make sure all windows are firmly closed and use commercially available window sealing treatments for any windows with drafts.
- Make sure your loved one has layered clothing to control body temperature. Long underwear, socks, slippers, sweaters over t-shirts can help a person stay comfortable.
- Use extra blankets at night for sleep. If your loved one sits for long periods of time, lay a blanket over his or her legs.
- As much as possible, try to keep the person active. Sitting or laying down for long periods of time can make it harder to keep a normal body temperature in cold weather. Go walking at the mall, do chair exercises at home, etc. If your loved one must sit for long periods of time or if the person is paralyzed, ask your doctor about exercises that would be appropriate.
Prevent Low Body Temperature for Cold Elderly Outside
- Dress in layers – but be careful to not have the clothing too tight. This can create a circulation problem and the air between layers is helpful to keeping warmth near the body.
- If it is damp outside, make sure you have a loved one wear water repellent outer wear like rain coats, etc. Getting wet can make body temperature drop rapidly.
- If windy, consider staying in. High winds can reduce body temperature rapidly also.
- Always wear hats and scarves. The head area is where we often lose a lot of our body heat.
- Do not stay out too long.
Seniors at Risk for Cold Weather Health Risks
Hypothermia is when a person’s body temperature goes below 95 degrees. Being this cold can lead to serious health problems like heart attack, liver damage, or worse. Unfortunately, when a person starts getting too cold, he or she may not be fully aware of it. If you think your loved one has signs of hypothermia below, call 911 right away.
Older people are more susceptible to hypothermia because they lose body heat faster than younger people. Over the age of 65, people tend to have health issues like diabetes, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, circulatory problems, and thyroid issues that can make it even harder for their bodies to stay warm. And some medications also increase a person’s chance of hypothermia.
In cold weather, it is a good idea to have someone regularly check in with an older person living alone to make sure they are warm enough.
Signs of Mild Hypothermia in the Elderly
1. Behavioral changes: can act angry, confused, or as if drunk: slow speech, slurred words, or acting sleepy.
2. Pale skin – particularly in the face
3. Puffy face or swollen looking eyes
4. Cold extremities – hands, fingers, feet, toes
5. Dizziness and/or shivering
Severe Hypothermia Symptoms
1. Slowed heart beat
2. Irregular heart beat
3. Very slow and unable to sit up, walk or move about in a coordinated way
4. Slow, shallow breathing
5. Oddly stiff arm and leg movements
**If you think a person has hypothermia, call for help right away – dial 911. While waiting for help to arrive, you can wrap a person in a warm blanket. Do not use a heating pad, warm bath, or leg/arm rubbing - these things can cause injury.