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Keeping Seniors Safe in Freezing Cold Temperatures

As temperatures in the Midwest continue to hover in the danger zone, knowing how to keep the elderly population safe is of the utmost concern. The sub-zero temperatures are of most concern right now, however, the winter season in general can be dangerous for the elderly.


Hypothermia is a condition where a person's core body temperature becomes dangerously low, which is usually caused by prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. The normal temperature a person should maintain averages around 98.6 degrees. When a person is experiencing hypothermia, their core temperature has dropped below 95 degrees. Severe hypothermia is when their core temperature has reached 82 degrees or lower.

The elderly population in general has more trouble regulating their body temperature, so they can more easily slip into an unsafe temperature. The dangers, besides the obvious ones of being exposed to super-cold temperatures, can include kidney and liver damage and a heart attack. Seniors who have chronic medical conditions like diabetes and thyroid problems are also more at risk. There are a multitude of medications, too, that can make it hard for a senior to regulate their body temperature.

Some symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, slow/shallow breathing, confusion, drowsiness, slurred speech, weak pulse, and loss of coordination. Some might think that you need to have harsh conditions for hypothermia to occur. Unfortunately for our elders, hypothermia can develop just from a power outage. During the winter months, it is important to check up on your elderly neighbors, especially during a power outage, to make sure that they are staying warm.

Staying Warm Indoors

According to the National Institute on Aging, indoor temperatures should be at least 68-70 degrees. Seniors should be encouraged to wear a sweater or dress in layers to help keep their body temperature at a safe level. If coming in from wet weather (snow or freezing rain), be sure to change out of those wet clothes immediately. The wet fabrics will cause a person's body temperature to drop more quickly and it can be difficult to get it back up.

You can close off rooms and areas of a home that do not get much use during the winter, this will help keep the main areas warmer. Closing the vents will also help redirect the heat to the areas where it is most needed. Closing blinds and curtains will also help keep heat from escaping through the windows.

At bedtime, seniors should dress warmly and even consider sleeping in a stocking cap. Have extra blankets nearby so you can utilize them if they feel cold during the night. In the event of a power outage, the inside temperature will drop very quickly when the days are as cold as they are now. If a power outage occurs at night, seniors will want to have those extra blankets and warm clothes at the ready.

Eat Well

If a person is not consuming enough calories to sustain their body weight, they will have less fat needed to maintain a safe body temperature. Side effects of medications or other treatments can decrease appetite, so a person may not realize they are not eating enough.

Alcoholic beverages can actually lower your body temperature, so staying clear of the spirits during the cold days and nights can help keep you warm.

Check on Friends and Neighbors

If you have an elderly neighbour or friend who lives alone, make time to stop by and check in on them. An older person may not realize they are in danger of hypothermia or other cold weather problems. Physically going into their residence to check the temperature and see how they are acting is vital to ensuring they are in good health.

They may need help with groceries or other supplies, as the cold weather also prevents the risk of falls due to ice and snow. A senior may not want or cannot venture out to purchase necessary items.

Stay warm, everyone, and contact the Heritage Health skilled nursing facility nearest you if you have concerns or questions about an elderly loved one.

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Friday, October 18, 2019

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