Community Blog

Can Elderly Adults Get Hypothermia?

By Mike Jackson

Cold weather in certain parts of the country is just around the corner. For elderly adults, the winter months can bring in a number of health hazards for them, from slip and fall accidents on icy sidewalks or influenza to struggling through an extreme storm. One of the overlooked dangers that many elderly adults encounter in winter is the threat of hypothermia. Family caregivers can do a lot to reduce the risk of their aging loved one developing hypothermia.

What is Hypothermia?

Hypothermia occurs when a person’s body temperature is below normal levels. It is caused by long-term exposure to cold and the body’s inability to warm itself up. Because the body is losing heat faster than it can produce it, the organs and the nervous system cease to function normally. Without treatment, a person can die from it due to the failure of the respiratory system and the heart.

Family caregivers, friends and home care providers must take action to prevent hypothermia in aging adults, and to recognize symptoms so they can get help. Symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, shallow breathing, slurred speech, weakened pulse, memory loss, red skin, fatigue and loss of consciousness. Because the symptoms come on gradually, the victim usually doesn’t realize they are suffering from hypothermia.

Prevent Hypothermia in Aging Adults

Usually, people associate hypothermia with being outdoors, but often happens to seniors indoors. The most common contributor of hypothermia in elderly adults is when temperatures are quite low in the home. Many elderly adults are conscious of saving money on the heat bill and set their thermostats low or turn them off. Family caregivers and home care providers should always set the thermostat to at least 68 degrees in the winter months. They can also block drafts from windows and doors to help preserve heat.

Another contributor to hypothermia in elderly adults is when they are not dressed for the weather. Many seniors can’t detect when they are cold and may not even shiver, so they don’t add layers. Home care providers, when they help the senior get dressed in the mornings, should help them choose loose-fitting layers that they can add or shed throughout the day. If elderly people sit in wet clothing in cold temperatures, they can quickly develop hypothermia, so home care providers should check frequently to ensure the clothing is dry and warm.

When Family Caregivers Suspect Hypothermia

If a home care provider or family caregiver suspects an elderly person has hypothermia, they should get medical help immediately. They should remove any wet clothing or blankets and replace them with dry items. If possible, the family caregiver should keep the aging adult active, generating more body heat. They should not overheat the aging adult by putting them in a warm bath or giving them a heating pad as this can trigger cardiac arrest or other medical complications. Instead, they should give them a warm beverage (without alcohol or caffeine).

It’s hard to believe that elderly adults can develop hypothermia while indoors, but that lack of information is often what leads to serious problems. Knowing that hypothermia is possible in seniors, even indoors, will help family caregivers be more aware of the warning signs and help them prevent it in the first place.

IF YOU OR AN AGING SENIOR ARE CONSIDERING IN HOME SENIOR CARE IN ADA COUNTY, ID, PLEASE CONTACT THE CARING STAFF AT HOME HELPERS HOME CARE OF BOISE. CALL US: (208) 322-2668.

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