By Harriet Epstein
January 5, 2020
Best wishes to all for a happy, healthy 2020! I hope you enjoyed a joyous Chanukah season. We are currently experiencing an extremely rare spell of warm weather for December/January. My plan to discuss hypothermia as a January topic may seem ridiculous as I write, but I believe a cold spell will be coming soon and want to be sure you and any elders in your care are prepared.
Hypothermia is a condition that occurs in cold weather when the body loses heat faster than it can produce it. It is especially dangerous when walking outside in high winds and precipitation, but it can also occur in a poorly heated home or car. Older people are more susceptible to hypothermia than people in midlife for several reasons: The body’s thermostat function declines as we age. Some chronic diseases and medications may also throw off that thermostat. People with dementia may not dress properly, may not be aware of feeling cold, or may be unable to express their discomfort.
The best protection is prevention. Keep your home thermostat at 70 degrees F or higher. Conduct a pre-winter tune up for your car that includes checking the heater and adding Antifreeze. Remember to throw in a blanket and take your cell phone. When you go outside – dress in layers, being sure to cover head, hands, and feet well. Limit outside walks and unnecessary car trips in bitter cold. (Hypothermia is only one winter risk; so are frostbite and slipping on ice) .
When outside in cold weather, watch for the following hypothermia symptoms – shivering, slurred speech, clumsiness, drowsiness, and confusion. If someone is experiencing these symptoms, quickly get them to a warm place, remove cold, wet clothing, and cover them with warm blankets. Do not rub cold body parts. If conscious, have the patient drink a warm (not hot or alcoholic) beverage. If the patient does not show significant recovery shortly – seek medical assistance. Always take hypothermia seriously to be safe!