March…Out Like a Lion?
The Ins and Outs of Hypothermia
The calendar might be telling us that spring is right around the corner, but the Old Farmers’ Almanac is saying we’re in for snowy weather right up until the last week of March. Slippery conditions aren’t the only thing to look out for.
If you’re responsible for the care of another, be particularly vigilant for hypothermia, since the body’s ability to regulate temperature and to sense cold may lessen with age. Signs of hypothermia include slowed or slurred speech, sleepiness or confusion, shivering or stiffness in the limbs, poor motor/body control and slow reactions or weak pulse.
Although most heat loss is due to heat radiated from unprotected surfaces of the body, if you’re in direct contact with something very cold, such as cold water or the cold ground, heat will also be conducted away from your body. Because water is very good at transferring heat, body heat is lost much faster in cold water than in cold air. Similarly, heat loss from your body is much faster if your clothes are wet, such as when you’re caught out in the rain. Add to that the fact that wind removes body heat by carrying away the thin layer of warm air at the surface of your skin and you see why wind chill becomes another factor to consider.
Who’s at Risk
• Certain medical conditions. Some health disorders affect your body’s ability to regulate body temperature. Examples include underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), poor nutrition or anorexia nervosa, stroke, severe arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, trauma, spinal cord injuries, burns, disorders that affect sensation in your extremities (for example, nerve damage in the feet of people with diabetes), dehydration, and any condition that limits activity or restrains the normal flow of blood.
• Medications. A number of drugs — including certain antidepressants, antipsychotics, narcotic pain medications and sedatives — can change the body’s ability to regulate its temperature. Check with the doctor to find out if prescription or OTC meds might increase your loved one’s risk.
• People with dementia or other conditions that interfere with judgment may not dress appropriately for the weather or understand the risk of cold weather. They may wander from home or get lost easily, making them more likely to be stranded outside in cold or wet weather.
The Mayo Clinic and the National Institute on Aging recommend:
• Keeping the home warm. Set the thermostat to at least 68 to 70 degrees. Even temperatures from 60 to 65 degrees can result in hypothermia in older people.
• Adding layers and covering exposed skin. Several layers of loose-fitting, lightweight clothing will trap warm air. Wool, silk or polypropylene inner layers hold body heat better than cotton. Silk has properties that make it most like the human skin, so try an underlayer of silk garments against the skin plus a silk scarf under a hat for further insulation. Outer clothing made of tightly woven, water-repellent material is best for wind protection.
• Wearing a hat, cap, scarf or other protective covering to prevent body heat from escaping from your head, face and neck. Mittens are warmer than gloves.
• Avoiding overexertion. Avoid activities that might cause you to sweat a lot. The combination of wet clothing and cold weather can cause you to lose body heat more quickly.
• Staying dry. Get out of wet clothing as soon as possible. Be especially careful to keep your hands and feet dry (it’s easy for snow to get into mittens and boots!).
Brought to you by Your Own Home In-Home Senior Care. With the help of the services offered by Your Own Home you can enjoy the independence and comfort of living at home, but not have to worry about all of the responsibilities. For more information on senior care, call them at 302-478-7081 or visit www.yourownhomecare.com.