It’s that time of year. The weather is changing, and as a caregiver of your loved ones, preparation is necessary!
If you are like most individuals, you feel cold, off and on. However, as winter “comes-a-knockin” keeping our elders warm is vital. Cold temperatures can create many problems for our elderly loved ones, especially if they have medical conditions where maintaining body temperature is critical. Sustaining body temperature is not always possible, so protecting the warmth of loved ones is a caregiver’s responsibility.
Changes in your body temperature come with aging. Our elderly loved ones can lose body heat fast, and paying attention to keeping the skin warm requires mindfulness.
The medical term for low body heat is hypothermia—a severe and life-threatening condition.
Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature gets very low. Normal temperature is considered 98.6°F (Fahrenheit). For the elderly, they tend to carry a lower body temperature of 95°F. Combining low body temperatures with health complications, such as cancers, heart conditions, kidney problems, nerve damage (loss of feeling with nerve damage), or blood disorders, can create serious concerns. Being outside in the cold for extended periods of time, or even being in a cold house, can lead to hypothermia.
There are steps you can take to lower the chances of your loved ones getting hypothermia. Here goes:
- Headwear: Temperature can be lost from the head, more if the hair has thinned. Covering the head and ears in cold weather will help reduce temperature loss.
- Neckwear: Providing warm scarves or even turtleneck sweaters increases warmth. Make sure they are comfortable and safe.
- Bodywear: Underwear and outerwear are necessary to keep body temperature controlled. Using shawls and blankets is helpful. In the same light, do not overdress your loved one while indoors. Taking your loved ones’ temperature daily is also a way to track their temperature.
- Hands: It’s no secret that hands get cold easily. For sure, when outside, gloves or mittens should be worn. Make sure they fit. Too tight-fitting handwear can cut off circulation.
- Footwear: Socks, shoes, and warm slippers can go a long way to keep the feet warm. For some, foot warmers are nice, but when worn incorrectly, they can burn the skin and cause severe harm for those with nerve damage. Proceed with caution.
As Your Proactive Caregiver Advocate, and a note of caution… If your loved one is in a nursing facility, please pay extra attention to keeping them warm. Hypothermia can happen to anyone in a nursing home if the rooms are not kept warm. Ensure they are dressed warmly from head to toe, especially in group areas. Be safe! Be well!
Dr. Cynthia J. Hickman is a retired registered nurse and case manager, CEO of Your Proactive Caregiver Advocate and auth4or of From the Lens of Daughter, Nurse, and Caregiver: A Journey of Duty and Honor, and The Black Book of Important Information for Caregivers.