If you haven’t unpacked all your cold weather clothing, the time is now. Winter is here. While the temperature may not consistently reflect the season, it’s best to be prepared for when those temps drop, especially if you are 55 or older.
In the winter months, or December – April for Arkansans, drops in temperature can be drastic and sporadic. When cold temperatures hit the forecast, illnesses like hypothermia become a concern.
Unlike hyperthermia in the summer, hypothermia happens when a person’s body temperature drops to 95 degrees or lower, causing the body to lose more heat than it can produce. What seems like a mere 3.6-degree drop can be fatal because it causes blood vessels to constrict, which lowers the flow of blood. This can lead to a heart attack.
Certain illnesses like diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia can make it hard for a loved one to stay warm in the winter because of the impacts on one’s mobility and memory. Simple activities like getting out of the cold, putting on clothes or blankets, or remembering it’s cold outside become difficult. Signs of hypothermia include:
- Slurred speech
- Weak pulse
- Shallowed breathing
When visiting our older loved ones this holiday season, it is important to be aware of room temperature, outdoor temperature, time spent outside, and clothing.
Here are a few tips to ensure your older loved ones and friends minimize their risk of weather-related illnesses like hypothermia.
- No matter the season, check the temperature and weather forecast before dressing for the day and going outside. This helps our older loved ones stay warm and protected against the elements.
- Contrary to popular belief, wear loose layers. While you want to bundle up, providing room for air between layers helps clothes keep you warm.
- Set your thermostat between 68 and 70 degrees. This will help keep the house at a comfortable temperature. Closing the vents and doors to rooms not in use will help with the heating bill. Should one use a space heater, make sure it is used correctly to limit the risk of creating a fire hazard. For more information, check out the Consumer Product Safety Commission's tips for safety.
- Wear a toboggan, scarf, and gloves when going outside, and socks when inside. These are key areas of the body where heat is released. Keeping them covered will help the body retain heat and stay at a healthy internal temperature.
If anyone, especially older people experience any of the above symptoms, they should slowly move to a warm area, get under a blanket, and call 9-1-1. If their clothes appear damp or wet, remove them and replace with dry, warm clothes. Do not give a person showing symptoms caffeinated beverages, rub their arms or legs, or place them in a warm bath. These actions can cause their heart rate to rise and the weak flow of blood can make matters worse.
At CareLink, our daily goal is to provide older people in Central Arkansas and their families the services they need to stay independent and safe at home. This includes checking on our homecare and Meals on Wheels customers during visits. We partner with senior centers throughout our six-county area where older people can visit to get out of the cold, as well as facilitate an Urgent Needs fund to purchase essential items like heaters.
Our programs are made possible through the support of our volunteers and donors. If you want to get involved with CareLink, click here to learn about our volunteer opportunities for services like Meals on Wheels, senior companions, and volunteer ombudsman.
If you are interested in donating to programs like the Urgent Needs fund, click here. One-hundred percent of your gift is dedicated to the program of your choice.
*For more information about hypothermia and ways to help older people stay warm this winter, visit the National Institute on Aging.