The Cold Facts About Hypothermia in Our Elderly
By Jean Donahue
I was taking care of my parents, I always wondered what I would do if the
electricity went off. How would I keep Dad warm? He always had to have the
temperature at about 78 degrees and he still wore long sleeved shirts.
the temperature was any lower, he put on a jacket or coat. At night he
used an electric blanket, even when the temperature was warm and he had on
flannel pajamas. I decided that he must not be producing enough heat to
keep himself warm, but I didn't understand it.
didn't lose power for any worrisome period of time while I was taking care
of my parents, but elderly people can border on hypothermia, and their
caregivers may not realize it. With these elderly, when the electricity
goes off or the weather gets cooler, they show mild signs of hypothermia.
Now I know that Dad was almost there a few times -- and it wasn't very
what is hypothermia? What I knew was that people shivered a lot with it
and other things happened to the body, but I didn't delve into all the
characteristics of hypothermia until now.
have seen several definitions of hypothermia, but they all seem to say the
same thing -- it occurs when the body temperature drops too low. Our
normal temperature is around 98.6 degrees F. When that temperature drops
to 95 degrees F, you should become concerned about hypothermia and get
medical help immediately.
didn't realize the problems that could be associated with Dad's
temperature, but his temperature always ran low – somewhere between
97-98 degrees. When he was really feeling cold, it would even get down to
96 degrees. I should have been more aware of hypothermia at that time, but
I was so busy taking care of Mom and Dad and didn't have time to research
much of anything. I hope this column gives you the information you need to
monitor your loved one's condition when they get cold.
of several situations can make the body temperature drop, but the elderly
are more susceptible because their bodies are getting old and tired.
Things just don't work as well as they used to work. Their temperature can
drop too low when it's cold outside and they aren't dressed warmly enough,
even though you would be very hot if you dressed the way they needed to
be. Exposure to cold water, sweating when the air temperature around you
is cold, submersion in cold water, some medical conditions, physical
problems, medications and malnutrition can all contribute to hypothermia.
A person with dementia may know they are cold, but they don't have the
mental capacity to understand how or when to get warm.
symptoms of hypothermia usually develop slowly, making the elderly person
with the symptoms unaware of them. If you suspect someone may be cold
enough for hypothermia, the first step is to take their temperature. If it
is 95 degrees or below, RUSH them to the hospital.
they have several of the signs below and their temperature doesn't rise
above 96 degrees, RUSH them to the hospital. Even a temperature of 96 can
cause an irregular heartbeat leading to heart problems and possibly death.
Don't procrastinate. Get help for them FAST. I should have understood
these things when Dad's temperature was 96, but I didn't. I was just lucky
that something didn't happen.
course, if the person has some of the signs below, and their temperature
is normal, the problems are probably from some other source. A doctor
should diagnose the problem even though it isn't hypothermia. The signs of
hypothermia to look for are:
if you are in a blizzard and can't get to a doctor or hospital? There are
ways to warm the person, but also some things you should not do. First of
all, if you have a working telephone, call 911 for instructions. They will
connect you with someone who can talk you through what you need to do. If
you can't call anyone and are stranded, or need to do something until the
ambulance arrives, the following are guidelines to warm someone with signs
you live in a cold-winter climate, be prepared for the times when the
electricity might go off. If you need to go somewhere in the car with your
loved one, make sure they are dressed warmly, their hands and head are
covered, and they have a scarf around their nose and mouth. Heat the car
before putting them in it, and have the necessities in the car if you get
do whatever you can to keep your loved one from getting too cold. It can
cause all sorts of health problems, including death. A little prevention
may save their life.