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Is that an Icicle on your Nose?

The blast of winter weather is in full swing, with low temperatures and bone-chilling winds sweeping much of the nation. Staying warm during these extremely cold days is important for all people, but especially for older adults who are more at risk from exposure to cold temperatures. When the mercury plummets, exposure to low temperatures is more of a threat to older persons because their bodies are not able to retain heat as well as they could when they were younger. There are dangers associated with the actual cold weather, both indoors and out, as well as potential side effects generated by medical conditions that can be exacerbated by the cold.


An older person can develop hypothermia even from being indoors if the temperature in their home is too low. Hypothermia sets in when the body's temperature gets below 95 degrees, and can occur without the person even realizing it. Dressing warmly even while inside will help keep your body at a safe temperature. For persons living in skilled nursing facility or assisted living apartment, like Heritage Health or Evergreen Senior Living, make sure the temperature inside their room is high enough to keep that person warm. Wearing a sweater or wrapping up in a blanket will help your body insulate against the cold.

Signs of hypothermia can include slurred speech or moving very slowly. A person with hypothermia may be shivering, but this is not always the case, however their extremities (hands and feet) will feel very cold to the touch. Acting confused, sleepy or angry are other early signs of hypothermia. As the condition progresses, a person may lose consciousness and their heartbeat and breathing will slow down significantly. A person may not even realize they are experiencing hypothermia, so keeping a close eye on elderly persons (especially those living alone) can be life-saving.

Many Americans keep the thermostat set under 68 degrees in order to save money, but during the cold winter months, this can be life threatening. In addition to dressing warmly enough and keeping the thermostat up, eating enough food can also protect older Americans from hypothermia. If you are not eating enough to sustain your bodies physical needs, there may not be enough fat under your skin to help retain body heat. If you have elderly neighbors, make it a point to stop in and check in on them during the cold winter months to ensure they are staying warm enough and are in good health. For a person who experiences hypothermia, permanent damage to the kidneys, liver and other organs can be an unfortunate side effect.

Dangers of Wind

Extreme winter weather presents itself in a variety of ways, and can leave behind snow and ice that can make conditions dangerous for many weeks. However, frosty wind blasts can quickly lower body temperature and place a person in danger of hypothermia or frostbite. The wind chill is not the actual temperature, but how the cold temperatures and wind feel on a person's exposed skin. A cold wind has the ability to move heat away from a person's body at a rapid pace, which means body temperatures can plummet to dangerous levels. If you have to be outdoors, wear loose layers that will hold heat in, and be sure to keep your exposed skin down to a minimum. Gloves, scarves and a hat are must-haves when outdoors during cold, windy days. Limit your time in the cold, too. Do not be outside any longer than you need to be to keep your body temperature at a safe level.


Frostbite is another winter danger that seniors should especially be mindful of during the cold months. Frostbite occurs when exposed skin actually freezes. Permanent damage only occurs in the cases of severe frostbite, but should this occur the health implications can be quite serious. If your skin is exposed to extremely low temperatures and/or very cold wind, the skin will become red and feel painful and stiff. As the frostbite progresses the affected area will go numb, which is dangerous as the person may not realize that damage is being done.

As with other winter conditions, stay indoors as much as possible when the temperatures are low and the wind is howling. Keep as much skin covered as possible to limit any exposure to the elements that could cause frostbite.

Medications and Illnesses

Everyone is a little different with how their body responds to cold weather, and medical conditions or prescriptions that affect circulation and internal body temperature regulation can increase the risk. Illnesses like diabetes, arthritis and thyroid problems can make it harder for a person's body to stay warm. Seniors who are affected by Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease or other neurological conditions are also at risk as they may not have the cognitive function to understand the dangers and how the cold weather might affect them. Both prescription medications and over-the-counter treatments can interfere with circulation and body temperature, so make sure you or a person you care for is aware of any potential side effects that could contribute to winter weather maladies.

If you have a loved one living in a Heritage Health or Evergreen Senior Living community and want to ensure they are staying warm enough, please stop by and talk with our staff at any time. Our building maintenance and nursing teams are well aware of the needs the senior population demonstrates in relation to cold weather and staying warm
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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

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Heritage Operations Group is proud to provide the senior population in Illinois with rehabilitative therapy services, skilled nursing care, specialized Alzheimer’s and dementia care, assisted and supportive living, independent living and pharmacy services.


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