Well, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow forecasting 6 more weeks of winter. Given Colorado’s recent cold snap I would say he’s right!
Even if you don’t rely on a chubby weather- predicting rodent, there is no doubt cold weather can be a serious health issue for the elderly, especially those still living at home. Older adults can lose body heat fast—faster than when they were young. Changes in your body that come with aging can make it harder for you to be aware of getting cold. A big chill can turn into a dangerous problem before an older person even knows what’s happening.
Hypothermia is what happens when your body temperature gets very low. For an older person, a body temperature colder than 95°F can cause many health problems, such as a heart attack, kidney problems, liver damage, or worse. Being outside in the cold, or even being in a very cold house, can lead to hypothermia. You can take steps to lower your chance of getting hypothermia.
Keep Warm Inside
Living in a cold house, apartment, or other building can cause hypothermia. In fact, hypothermia can happen to someone in a nursing home or group facility if the rooms are not kept warm enough. If someone you know is in a group facility, pay attention to the inside temperature and to whether that person is dressed warmly enough.
People who are sick may have special problems keeping warm. Do not let it get too cold inside and dress warmly. Even if you keep your temperature between 60 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit, your home or apartment may not be warm enough to keep you safe. This is a special problem if you live alone because there is no one else to feel the chilliness of the house or notice if you are having symptoms of hypothermia.
Here are some tips for keeping your house at a safe temperature:
Set a Safe Minimum- Set your heat at 68°F or higher. Many people are tempted to keep their heat turned down to save on the electric bill. On days like today, when 30 degrees is our high, you house will not be warmed up but our usual sunny Colorado afternoons. You will need that heat running all day to keep the house at a safe temperature.
Dress warmly- Even if you are staying in the house. Throw a blanket over your legs. Wear socks and slippers. When you go to sleep, wear long underwear under your pajamas, and use extra covers. Wear a cap or hat.
Eat enough food- It’s important to keep up your weight. If you don’t eat well, you might have less fat under your skin. Body fat helps you to stay warm.
Drink alcohol moderately, if at all- Alcoholic drinks can make you lose body heat.
Electric blankets – Although a great and relatively inexpensive way to keep warm, there are some electric blanket safety precautions that need to be taken. Be sure the senior is able to follow a few simple rules such as not setting anything on the blanket, not leaving it turned on (some models do have an automatic shut off), don’t use it on high (to prevent burns), do not plug into an extension cord and replace the blanket if the cord pulls out or is not working properly.
Space heaters – Too avoid accidents and injuries with space heaters, always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. However, most space heaters should never be plugged into an extension cord, should never have anything placed on or around them, should never be left on (find one with an automatic shut off or shut off if tipped over), should not be placed on an area with thick carpet, should not have the electrical cord run under carpet and should be replaced if not working properly or cord is pulled out.
Weather stripping – Make sure all doors and windows are sealed well. Place plastic over windows that are not really in use.
Close the door – Close the doors to rooms that are not in use in order to focus on heating just the rooms that are in use. You also can close off vents to these rooms.
Furnace – If you haven’t done it yet, make sure you have a professional look at and maintain your furnace. Regular furnace maintenance will keep your furnace running well and extend the appliance life. Make sure any detected leaks are fixed and make sure to install a carbon monoxide detector.
Close blinds and curtains – Keep window blinds and curtains closed to keep any cool air from coming through the windows.
Towels or blankets – Use towels or blankets to block any drafts from under doors or on window sills.
Rearrange furniture – Move the furniture away from large windows; don’t sit directly in front of drafts. Sit closer to the vents.
Even if the home has been prepared for the winter, be sure to check on loved ones regularly when the Fahrenheit dips suddenly or for long stretches.
For more information on how to keep seniors safe in cold weather including warning signs of hypothermia check out these sites: