If You Think You're Cold, Try It at Age 80!
By Jean Donahue
been doing what a lot of family caregivers end up doing -- clearing
out the house. Mom and Dad lived there 25-to-30 years, and I lived there
with my kids for several years after Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.
They were able to get rid of all the cancer, but living there worked so
well for all five of us that we continued living in the same house.
the help of good friends and family, Iíve gone through my parents'
things, deciding what to give to family and friends, what to keep for
myself, selling what I could, and putting the rest in a dumpster. My kids
went through their things, taking what they wanted to keep, then adding
what they didnít want to the dumpster. After nearly a year of going
through things and finding homes for a lot of it, I was finally finished.
I was ready to move.
live in Iowa, so moving in December can be a problem if the weather
doesnít cooperate. However, this year we've had a mild winter with no
snow until the middle of January. There was a period in December when
temperatures hung in the 20ís, but most of the time they have been in
the 30ís to 50ís -- except, I might add, for the one day I moved.
It was 5 degrees when the moving company arrived.
doors to the house were open, and the furnace could only keep the house to
40 degrees. I wasnít dressed for those temperatures, but couldnít do
anything about it since everything was packed. After the truck was loaded
we drove to Des Moines from where I was living in Granger, Iowa. Again,
the doors were open while they moved everything in. The furnace there
couldnít keep the place any warmer than 40 degrees either.
realized I was a little cold, but I didnít know just how cold I was
until that evening. I have never felt so cold! No matter what I did, I
couldnít get warm. I turned the furnace up, put on more clothes and
socks, and piled on the covers, but still couldnít get warm. (Of course,
my thermometer was packed so I didnít take my temperature. In fact, I
didnít even think of taking it.) My daughter dropped in and told me I
looked awful and that it was hot in my new place, but nothing registered a
warning to either of us. All I could think about was the fact that I was
cold. The next day I finally started feeling warmer, but it took longer to
feel normal. For the next several days, there were times I suddenly felt
cold again, for no apparent reason. That has finally quit happening.
the same time as I moved, the news media talked about mountain climbers in
Oregon who had disappeared in a snow storm. Later, one was found, but he
was not alive. I donít think they have found the other two yet. I have
wondered if they felt cold. I didnít feel very cold until I finally
started to get ďwarmed up.Ē
what's all this got to do with caring for our elderly? Plenty:
elderly loved ones are more susceptible to hypothermia than adults younger
than 65 who are healthy. That means most of us family caregivers are not
as susceptible to hypothermia as our ill or elderly loved ones. Still,
most of us have visited an elderly grandparent, aunt, uncle or friend who
had the house so hot we could hardly stand to visit them. The reason they
had the house so hot was that their body wasnít working the way it used
to. Even with the thermostat cranked up to 80 degrees, they were actually
cold. Now, 80F is still cooler than our normal body temperature of
98.6 degrees F. My Dad would wear a coat in the house even though my
children and I felt hot. His body simply wasnít working well enough to
keep him warm.
understand there are other reasons why people feel cold when the
temperature is somewhere between 70-75 degrees in the room. They could be
ill or have a fever. Or, if they have a job, perhaps their place
of business is kept at 80 degrees. Their body gets used to the higher
temperatures, and when they are enter a cooler environment -- what we
might think is normal -- they feel cold. Our solders in Iraq who
wear heavy military attire in temperatures that sore to 120 degrees
Fahrenheit have come home saying it feels cold here when it is 85 or 90,
so you can see that this adjustment affects more than our elderly --
although the elderly are more commonly susceptible..
a family caregiver, you must be aware of the problems your loved one
faces. If they say they are cold, take their temperature to see if their
body temperature is normal, or high, or low. Donít assume anything. You
canít tell whatís happening without actually taking their temperature.
also need to be alert to the signs of hypothermia. In fact, you should
print them off and review them periodically. If the furnace goes out, your
loved one might start showing these warning signs. Keep that list where
you can find it easily -- and review it. Donít depend on your
memory, because you may forget something important.
earlier column, The
Cold Facts About Hypothermia in Our Elderly, describes the
signs of hypothermia and what you should do if you see them in your loved
one. Please read it and print off the warning signs as well as the
guidelines to warm someone with signs of hypothermia. The extra few
minutes it takes to print off the signs and review them every month or two
(yes, elderly can even get cold in the warmer months) is well worth
avoiding the problems that may arise.