In multi-generational households, arguments over the thermostat are common. Some people seem to always run warm, while others need an extra blanket. For many of us, the temperature can be the source of lighthearted banter as people argue about who’s hot and who’s cold in a home or office. However for seniors, the cold can be truly harmful.
As we age, it becomes harder for the body to control its temperature, which can produce very real threats for our elders. For seniors, staying warm can be challenging for several reasons:
- A decrease in fat and thinning skin make it difficult to conserve heat
- Aging causes a natural decrease in metabolic rate, which means seniors’ bodies might be unable to generate enough heat to maintain a “normal” temperature of 98.6 degrees.
- Slower circulation can make it difficult to retain heat throughout the body. This could be due to aging or medication side effects.
Since seniors experience a combination of these factors, it’s no surprise that while a heated room or warm day feels comfortable — or even hot — to you, it could feel very chilly to an elder.
Regardless of the underlying cause of sensitivity to the cold in older adults, hypothermia is a very real threat for seniors. According to the National Institute for Aging, for an older person, a body temperature of 95°F or lower can cause many health problems, such as a heart attack, kidney problems, liver damage or worse. While most people think hypothermia occurs only in frigid conditions, seniors with slower metabolism can experience hypothermia in temperatures in the mid-70s! This is particularly alarming since, as John Hopkins Medicine reports, half of the elderly people who get hypothermia die before—or just after—they are found.
Caregivers play a critical role in hypothermia awareness and prevention. If the seniors in your life mention that they are feeling cold, take it seriously.
Some helpful tips to keep seniors warm and prevent dangerous hypothermia:
- Adjust the thermostat. The leading cause of hypothermia is a poorly heated home. Set thermostats no lower than 68 or 70 degrees, and adjust accordingly.
- Encourage seniors to dress for the weather. Layers are ideal because they can be removed if the aging adult starts to feel overheated. When going outside in cold weather, scarves and hats are critical to keeping seniors warm.
- Use mealtimes to generate heat. Eating large portions can generate heat by amping up the body’s digestive process. It’s also helpful to offer seniors warm beverages like coffee or tea regularly. Avoid alcohol, which triggers heat loss.
While it’s normal for seniors to feel a bit cold, chills and sensitivity to slight temperature drops could signify the need for medical attention. Awareness and vigilance are important. Family members and caregivers should stay alert for signs of hypothermia. Winter weather can exacerbate these issues, especially for seniors living in colder climates and homes that are not properly insulated or heated.
If you have taken appropriate steps to mitigate the cold in your home or while your patient or loved one is outdoors and the problem persists, please contact a physician for more comprehensive solutions.
Is meeting the needs of a senior becoming a challenge to you or that senior’s family? If you know someone ready to make a housing transition, the experts at Oasis Senior Advisors are here to help. Give us a call at 888-455-5838– we are just are one call away and offer many solutions to the issues that seniors, families, and senior caregivers face every day.