Brrr… Winter has arrived and has brought with it cold temperatures, rain and in some places snow. While no one likes being cold, it is pretty important older people to stay warm. Older adults are typically more vulnerable to cold weather as the skin’s protective abilities, bone strength, and the body’s ability to regulate temperature all decrease with age. You’re at risk of a heart attack, a stroke or even hypothermia if you’re exposed to a cold environment for a long time, or to extreme cold for only a short time.
Hypothermia is a lowered deep-core body temperature of 35C or below. It is the lowered temperature of the organs inside the body which is important – an ordinary thermometer cannot measure this. You may not actually feel cold but if you sit in a cold room and do little or nothing to keep warm then you may run the risk of becoming hypothermic or becoming ill with bronchitis or pneumonia. Both are cold-related illnesses.
Watch out for danger signs:
- Very cold skin on parts of the body normally covered, for example the stomach or armpits.
- Slurred speech.
- Person not complaining of feeling cold, even in a bitterly cold room.
If you are in doubt:
- Move the person into warmer surroundings if possible.
- Wrap the person in a light layer of blankets or a duvet to avoid further loss of body heat.
- Give them warm, nourishing drinks.
- Call the doctor or nurse.
Here are some other tips to help ward off the cold:
- Make sure you keep your hands and face warm. As well as wearing gloves and a hat, always wrap a scarf around your face when you go out in cold weather, even for short intervals. This helps to warm the air you breathe.
- Several thin layers of clothing will keep you warmer than one thick layer, as the layers trap warm air. Clothes made from wool or fleecy synthetic fibres such as polyester are a better choice than cotton. Start with thermal underwear, warm tights or socks.
- If you’re sitting down, a shawl or blanket will provide a lot of warmth. Try to keep your feet up, as the air is cooler at ground level.
- Wear warm clothes in bed. When very cold, wear thermal underwear, bed socks and even a hat – a lot of heat is lost through your head.
- Use a hot-water bottle, wheat bag or an electric blanket to warm the bed, but never use a hot-water bottle and an electric blanket together as this can be dangerous. Check whether your electric blanket can be kept on all night or whether it’s only designed to warm the bed before you get in. Get it checked every three years by an expert. If you have continence difficulties, talk to your doctor before using one.
- Keep your feet warm. Choose boots with non-slip soles and a warm lining, or wear thermal socks.