March may be here, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the cold temperatures are over. If you're taking care of an elderly relative this winter, it's important to be aware of the risk of hypothermia, as seniors are particularly vulnerable to this cold-weather danger.
Hypothermia occurs when a person's body temperature decreases to dangerously low levels and stays this way for an extended period of time. A temperature of 98.6 is normal, while a drop below 97.5 degrees can trigger dehydration, confusion, an irregular heartbeat and, if there's no medical alert and the condition goes untreated, coma or even death can result.
You might think that hypothermia only happens to people when they're outside for long periods of time in the bitter cold, but the reality is that even slight changes in indoor temperature can put senior citizens at risk. Some experts point out that 60 degrees is sometimes enough to cause dangerous drops in body temperature, especially if an elderly person isn't wearing particularly warm clothing.
Luckily, there are many ways to ensure that your older relatives stay warm in the winter. For starters, it's important to ensure that they dress warmly – even if they're not feeling cold. Several layers of loose-fitting clothes work to trap heat, so make sure that your relatives have plenty of sweaters, warm socks, slippers and blankets on hand. When going outside, hats, scarves, gloves and a winter jacket are all necessary. In addition, raise the thermostat to at least 68 to 70 degrees. Any temperature under 65 could lead to hypothermia.
If you're not living with your elderly relative, it's important to check in on him or her regularly to ensure that the living conditions in the home are comfortable. If you ever stop by and notice symptoms like unusual muscle stiffness, excessive shivering, slow breathing, sleepiness, slurred speech or cold skin, emergency medical treatment may be necessary.
You might also want to consider setting your senior relative up with a medical alarm system from Bay Alarm. With the push of a button, your relative will be in contact with an emergency professional who can reach you, friends, neighbors or, if necessary, a local medical response unit that can treat hypothermia.