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What is Hypothermia?

Dec 7, 2018 by Nancy Hmieleski, RN, BSN Director of Nursing

One cold December day Julia stopped by her Aunt Camille’s house for lunch. Camille was sitting in her favorite chair in the living room. After a few minutes in the house, Julia noticed it didn’t seem as warm as it should be. When she mentioned the cold, Camille said she liked to keep the thermostat set low to keep her heating costs down. Julia noticed that something didn’t sound right about Camille’s speech. Her words were slurred. She also seemed sleepy. As for Julia, she was so cold in her aunt’s house that she was shivering. Something was wrong. Julia checked the thermostat and discovered that it was set at 60 degrees. She pulled out her smartphone and searched Camille’s symptoms. It quickly became clear that her aunt had hypothermia. Julia turned up the heat and called 9-1-1 so Camille could receive emergency medical care.

It may seem odd that an older adult could get hypothermia at 60 degrees, but it’s not as unusual as it sounds. Older adults are more susceptible to hypothermia because of age-related changes to their bodies. They lose heat more quickly and may not notice that they are getting cold. Because seniors are at higher risk for hypothermia, understanding what it is and how to spot it can help caregivers keep their aging relatives safe during cold weather.

About Hypothermia

For most people, normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Hypothermia occurs when body temperature reaches 95 degrees or lower. This happens when the body loses heat at a rate that it cannot keep up with. 

When body temperature is extremely low, organs don’t work the way they should. The heart and nervous system are impacted, so if it’s not treated, hypothermia can cause the heart and respiratory system to fail, leading to death. 

Hypothermia Symptoms

Caregivers may first notice shivering as a sign of hypothermia. The body shivers in an attempt to warm up. Other symptoms of hypothermia are:

  • Mumbling or slurred speech.
  • Clumsiness.
  • Lack of energy.
  • Sleepiness.
  • Confusion.
  • Weak pulse.
  • Slowed or shallow breathing.

Caregivers who notice these signs in their aging relatives should seek emergency treatment for them. If the older adult is outside when you discover them, move them inside if possible. Caregivers should avoid sudden, jarring movements, though, because it could cause the heart to beat irregularly. If the older adult’s clothing is wet, take it off and cover them with dry blankets or jackets. 

Sources

https://www.nia.nih.gov/news/hypothermia-and-older-adults
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hypothermia/symptoms-causes/syc-20352682

If you or an elderly loved one are considering caregivers in High Bridge, NJ, or the surrounding areas, call the caring professionals at Comfort Keepers of Flemington, NJ. Call today (908) 806-2220.

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