Staying warm in winter should be an important goal for seniors

By Carol Higgins Taylor, Senior Beat
Posted Jan. 05, 2012, at 12:03 p.m.

We are in the middle of winter now and have seen some pretty bone-chilling temperatures. It is safe to say that there are more on the way, so it’s time to get serious about warmth and show Old Man Winter what we’re are made of.

First off, dressing in layers — including a thermal shirt, turtleneck, and sweatshirt, thermal pants, sweatpants, socks and slippers — can fend off most chills. Air gets trapped between the layers and will keep you warm.

A cozy fleece throw can add a layer of warmth and has that “cuddly” factor.

I am a firm believer in hats — and not just wearing hats outside. Remember the days when people wore stocking caps to bed? These were not just fashion statements of the day. The caps served a purpose. A person loses about 40 percent of body through the head and neck, so have a special hat that you only wear inside. You will be amazed at how much warmer you feel.

And I have recently found the best thing in the world to avoid being cold while sleeping: fleece sheets. In previous years I used flannel sheets, but at the suggestion of a friend, I tried a fleece set. Within minutes of crawling into bed, you’re toasty.

Remember, being cold is more than just uncomfortable. It can lead to hypothermia very quickly, often before an elderly person even realizes it, and it can be very dangerous. A core body temperature of 95 degrees or lower is all it takes.

Signs and symptoms of hypothermia include:

• Poor coordination;

• Stumbling;

• Weak or irregular pulse;

• Intense shivering;

• Poor judgment or irrationality;

• Hallucinations;

• Blueness or puffiness;

• Slower than normal speech or slurring words;

• Acting sleepy;

• A feeling of deep cold or numbness.

If you are a senior or love someone who is, remember to be very careful about setting the thermostat too low. The National Institutes of Health recommends setting your thermostat to at least 68 to 70 degrees because even mildly cool homes with temperatures from 60 to 65 degrees can trigger hypothermia in older people. A drop to 95 degrees body temperature can also cause some serious health concerns, such as a heart attack, kidney problems, liver damage, or worse, according to NIH.

Some diseases such as diabetes, thyroid problems, Parkinson’s disease, or arthritis compound the risk for hypothermia by making it harder for an aging body to stay warm; so can some medications, such as for asthma and high blood pressure, which can constrict veins and reduce blood flow.

In fact, caregivers need to be especially aware because sometimes these symptoms are mistaken for the natural signs of aging, slight dementia, or drug side effects when in reality hypothermia could be setting in.

The winter months and cold weather have other possible side effects: increased isolation and accidents that result in injuries. Slippery sidewalks, roads, and parking lots can be extremely dangerous, so always carry a small container of rock salt or calcium chloride with you so you can sprinkle as you go along if necessary.

Spending time outdoors, either shoveling the steps or taking a winter walk, can result in frostbite, so be sure to stay covered up as much as possible. Exposed areas of the face, such as cheeks, nose, chin, forehead, and ears are in particular danger, as well as wrists, hands, and feet.

As the days start getting longer, remember that spring is on its way. For now though, all we can do is don our hats, wrap up in fleece and wait it out.

Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. E-mail Higgins Taylor at chtaylor@eaaa.org. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865, toll-free (800) 432-7812, e-mail info@eaaa.org or log on EAAA.org. TTY 992-0150.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/01/05/the-weekly/staying-warm-in-winter-should-be-an-important-goal-for-seniors/ printed on September 16, 2014