Cold Weather | Ask the doctor

Representational Picture
Representational PictureFile/GK

Does cold affect the elderly more?

The Elderly are more sensitive to cold than young people. Body temperature below 95°F, or hypothermia, increases the risk of liver damage, heart disease and kidney damage.

Why are the elderly sensitive to cold?

Cold is felt less by the elderly, and their ability to control and regulate body temperature is reduced. The Elderly having chronic illness, multiple medications and poor nutrition are more vulnerable to the cold. The elderly tend to drink too little and dehydrate even in the winter. The elderly are liable to remain inactive at home, dressed inappropriately for the weather. There is sometimes a tendency to heat the home less because of electricity shutdowns or in order to save heating costs.

How can the elderly prevent hypothermia?

Avoid going out in cold or stormy weather. Proper heating and avoiding exposure to the cold. Maintaining good health habits, drinking, eating and physical exercise. Consulting their doctors regarding precautions to be taken for persons with chronic illness and/or being treated with sleeping tablets. Avoid drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes.

What about clothing for the elderly in winter?

Wear warm and comfortable clothing, with several layers, to avoid heat loss, but without restricting movement at home. In the morning, it is important to dress relatively warmly, since the body is still not sufficiently active (low metabolism). At nighttime, when going to sleep, keep covered with a suitable blanket, wear warm clothes, including socks and make sure to heat the room using safe heaters.

Signs of hypothermia in elderly and what to do?

The elderly person is inactive and the room is seen to be cold. The skin is cold, and there may be bluish fingertips and lips, reduced alertness, mild confusion, and slurred speech, but nevertheless, the elderly person suffering from hypothermia might not shiver or complain of feeling cold. If this continues, the elderly person will become less alert and his/her confusion could worsen. This condition poses a risk to the function of vital systems, especially the lungs and heart. In this case, take the elderly to the hospital immidiately.

Any additional precautions for Elderly persons living alone?

Persons living alone may have difficulty heating the home and caring for themselves (clothing, eating, drinking and the like), and they are at elevated risk for injury from the cold.

Sometimes, elderly people who live alone fall at home and remain lying on the cold floor for long periods, which could result in severe hypothermia. It is therefore recommended, in addition to the above, to take the following actions:

Keep in touch and make sure that family, friends, neighbours or volunteers visit the elderly person at least once a day.

Make sure that the lone senior citizen’s personal details (name, address and telephone number) are available to the welfare services in their community, so as to receive assistance if necessary and to arrange for regular visits.

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