Here we are in the first week in February, and there are cold weather warnings across the state. And rightly so -- the effects of the cold weather on older adults can be dangerous.
The effects of the aging process leave older adults at a greater risk of experiencing a cold emergency. As we age, the body’s ability to regulate temperature decreases. Certain diseases and medications can contribute to this inability to regulate efficiently.
Hypothermia, an abnormally low core body temperature (under 95 degrees), is of special concern for older adults. Reduced muscle mass, slower metabolic rate, decreased blood flow, and reduced shivering response can all contribute to an older adult becoming hypothermic. For some, living on a fixed income might result in not keeping their home adequately heated. Also, it is important to understand that hypothermia can turn into a dangerous problem before a person knows that it is happening. And it can occur inside a home that is too cold, as well as outside in the elements.
But there are things you can do to keep yourself safe.
Inside your home
⦁ Dress warm: Dressing in layers allows you to be in control of how cold you get. Put on a sweater, cover up with a blanket, put on a cute hat (or a handsome fedora), even if you are just inside your home. When going to bed, throw on an extra blanket or put on some thermal underwear under your pajamas.
⦁ Check the thermostat: Keeping the temperature in your home too low can be dangerous. Try to keep the temperature at 68 to 70 degrees. Close the curtains on all the windows and shut the doors to the rooms you are not using to save on energy bills.
⦁ Eat: Yes, eat. Eat enough food to keep your weight up. Body fat helps keep you warm.
⦁ Communicate: Ask a family member or a friend to check on you daily to make sure you are doing okay. If you have concerns about being home alone during extremely cold days, stay with someone for a few days. The company will help each of you forget about how cold it is outside.
If you need to venture out
⦁ Cover your head: We lose a significant amount of body heat through our head and neck. So, cover them up to conserve your body heat.
⦁ Dress in layers: If at any time any of those layers get damp, change them as soon as you can get indoors. Damp clothing pulls body heat away from you and will make you get chilled faster.
⦁ Keep your time outside at a minimum: Windchill does not have any effect on inanimate objects. But it certainly does on the human body! Pay attention to the wind-chill warnings. It only takes a couple of minutes for our body to start to feel the effects of the bitter cold.
Signs of hypothermia
⦁ Being sleepy
⦁ Behavior changes such as anger or confusion, or both.
⦁ Shivering (as hypothermia progresses, shivering will stop)
⦁ Slurred speech or talking slower than normal
⦁ Pale skin
⦁ Cold hands and feet
⦁ The “umbles.” When a person stumbles, mumbles, fumbles, and grumbles. Whether it is only a couple of the “umbles,” a person should be seen by emergency services. Call 9-1-1 and request an ambulance.
⦁ Slow, shallow breathing
⦁ Losing consciousness
While waiting for EMS to arrive
⦁ Move the person to a warmer place.
⦁ Cover them with a blanket, including the top of their head, but not their face.
⦁ Do not rub the person’s legs or arms to try and warm them up. This practice can cause more damage.
⦁Do not put them in a warm bath. The drastic change in temperature can cause problems with their heart.
This is a monthly column from the Dancing Sky Area Agency on Aging / Special to the Detroit Lakes Tribune Health Page.