Senior Living Care Blog

Hypothermia and Cold Weather for Seniors

Posted by Joe Gilmore on Dec 27, 2018 12:05:10 PM

With the winter season in full effect, it may be a good time to go over some cold weather health and safety tips for everyone. Being in the cold can cause some people, especially older individuals, to get sick. Older adults lose body heat fast, much faster than when they were young.

One major health risk associated with cold weather is hypothermia. Being exposed to cold temperatures can lead to the body temperature dropping to dangerous levels that can lead to side effects like shivering and numbness. If untreated these problems can lead to major health risks like heart attacks and liver damage.


However, if treated properly, hypothermia can be conquered and the victim can stabilize their temperature. If you or someone close by is suffering from hypothermia, wrapping them in blankets and warming them slowly while waiting for emergency services is the best thing you can do in the situation. But, it should be said that preparing properly by wearing the right clothing and being aware of the situation may be all you need to avoid the situation entirely.



What is Hypothermia?

A couple holding hands in the winter snow.

Hypothermia is abnormally low body temperature. It is a dangerous condition that can occur when exposed to extremely cold temperatures. While it generally occurs in cold temperatures, hypothermia can still happen in even cool temperatures above 40 degrees, especially if a person becomes chilled from rain or submersion in cold water.


When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it’s produced, lengthy exposure will eventually use up your body’s stored energy which can lead to lower body temperature.


If the body temperature gets too low, it can affect the brain and can cause the victim to not move or think clearly, thi is one thing that can make hypothermia especially dangerous. It can cause someone to be confused, to not know what is happening and they won’t be able to do anything about it.


Older individuals are one of the most at-risk subgroups of people for hypothermia. Other populations that are more at risk for hypothermia include babies in cold bedrooms, people who remain outdoors for long periods of time like homeless people and hikers. It is also more likely to be affected by cold temperatures if you drink alcohol or use illicit drugs.



Some common signs of hypothermia include:

  • Shivering
  • Numbness
  • Glassy stare
  • Apathy
  • Weakness
  • Loss of Consciousness


Eventually, if not treated, the hypothermia can lead to other major health problems such as a heart attack, kidney problems, liver damage, and more.



What to Do?

If you or someone around you is experiencing hypothermia or is dealing with symptoms that are characteristic of hypothermia, there are a few things that you should do to help. The first thing is to call emergency services like 911 and tell them what is happening as well as your location. If possible, moving the person suffering into a warm place, monitoring their breath and circulation, and removing any wet clothing are the first steps to helping them stabilize their body temperature.


It is important to note that when warming someone who may be suffering from hypothermia, you should warm the person slowly by putting them in blankets and putting dry clothing on the person. Do not warm the person to quickly by immersing them in warm water, as rapid warming may cause dangerous irregular heart beating.


It is important to warm the core, such as the abdomen, first rather than the extremities, like the hands and the feet. Warming parts like the hands and feet first can cause shock.



How to Avoid Hypothermia

There are a number of things that you can do to avoid being affected by cold weather problems like hypothermia. For example, being sure to bundle up properly and dress appropriately for the weather that you will be exposed to is important. Heavy winds can cause the body temperature to quickly drop. If the forecast has major winds, it may be best to just avoid going out and wearing warm clothes.


Wearing loose layers of clothing can be helpful as the air between the layers helps to keep you warm. Being sure to wear a hat and scarf are important because you lose a lot of body heat through the head and the neck. Wearing a waterproof coat or jacket if it’s snowing can be helpful in keeping you dry, but if you end up getting wet, being sure to get a change of dry clothes is important for keeping body temperature stabilized.


Illness and Medication

It is also important to note that some illnesses and medication can put you more at risk to cold weather related problems like hypothermia. For example, thyroid problems and diabetes can impede your body’s ability to maintain a normal body temperature and provide warmth.


Similarly, problems like Parkinson’s Disease and arthritis can make it hard to put on more clothing or blankets and get out of the cold. And memory loss conditions like dementia can cause a person to go outside without the proper clothing needed.


It should also be noted that some medicines can also affect body heat. If you think this may be the case, consulting with a doctor or other medical professional is the best step forward.



Now What?

Cold weather and problems that come from it, like hypothermia, are serious issues and, if not treated in time, can lead to health risks like heart attacks and liver damage. Despite the problems associated with hypothermia, there are ways to avoid it like dressing properly for the weather and not going out if it is too cold or windy. If living alone is the problem, as it may be hard to dress properly or get warm by yourself, it may be beneficial to look into assisted living facilities. At Landmark Senior Living, we can help our residents through the winter months and keep them safe and happy throughout the rest of the year. If you are interested, please reach out to our admissions staff and schedule a free walk through of one of our assisted living facilities.


Learn More Here!



Topics: Senior Health

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