April 21, 2018
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Layering essential to help seniors to keep warm on cold days

By Carol Higgins Taylor

“Baby, it’s cold outside” isn’t just a song by Bing Crosby, it’s also the weather forecast. We are approaching the middle of January 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 Jack Frost what we’re made of before he does more than nip at our noses.
First off, think about dressing in layers, including a thermal shirt, turtleneck, and sweatshirt, thermal pants, sweatpants, socks and slippers, which can fend off most chills. Air gets trapped between the layers and will keep you warm.
Drinking hot beverages can warm you up from the inside, just watch the caffeine amounts, and a cozy fleece throw can add a layer of warmth to your outside, plus it has the “cuddly” factor.
I am a firm believer in hats, and not just 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.
Getting into a cold bed can be startling. I recommend fleece sheets. They are soft, warm and the perfect companion to restful slumber. 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, as can some medications, such as for asthma and high blood pressure, can constrict veins, reducing 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, 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. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865, toll-free(800) 432-7812, or log on EAAA.org.

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