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Home Care Winter Tips 2: Eight Signs of Hypothermia

By Peter DiMaria

Hypothermia is the most dangerous effect of the cold temperatures for older adults. It sets when the body is exposed to cold temperatures for long periods of time. To avoid it, make sure the thermostat is set to at least 68 degrees and your loved one is dressed with many layers of clothing, particularly when going outside for longer periods of time.

Hypothermia is more prevalent in those who decide to live alone, independently, in their own home. In that case, make sure that someone checks in with them daily, to see if they are warm. Ask for help from a neighbor or an in home care agency like Home Helpers, if you are unable to do so. 

Some people die of hypothermia. That happens when they or those around them fail to identify the main symptoms. The person checking in with them should pay attention to a combination of these signs:

-             An increasing mental confusion is one of the first symptoms of hypothermia. Difficulty with logical thinking, disorientation, memory loss and forgetfulness are present. It gets worse as body temperature falls.

-             A person with hypothermia could find himself or herself shivering, which means the body is not staying warm. However, shivering could be diminished or absent in older adults, and the fact that an older person is not shivering doesn’t mean that he/she is not suffering from hypothermia;

-             Puffy or swollen face is an important sign, especially when the skin is cold and the person shows signs of confusion.

-             Muscles could be stiff, most likely in the arms, neck and legs. A little trembling might be present, sometimes in only one side of the body or one arm or leg. The person has difficulty with balance and walking, showing poor coordination and jerky movements.

-             Heart rate and breathing are slowed at low body temperatures, and may be very difficult to detect in severe cases of hypothermia.

-             The skin color usually becomes very pale, sometimes with irregular blue or pink spots. Special attention should be given to the stomach, lower back, arms, legs, hands, and feet.

-             Consciousness is depressed, but some hypothermia victims will still be conscious when their body temperatures are as low as 80 degrees. Consider that "consciousness" and "mental clarity" are two different things.

-             The person may show changes in behavior, becoming aggressive, irritable, mean or hostile. Apathy is also common.

Once again, like in the previous post about seasonal diseases, don’t forget that it is OK to ask for help!


Click here to read: Home Care Winter Tips 1: Why should you take the flu vaccine?

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