Keep warm this winter
As the mercury drops on the thermometer, remember to stay warm both indoors and outdoors for your health. This is particularly true for older adults as they tend to lose body heat faster than younger adults.
Not staying warm enough can lead to hypothermia. This condition occurs when your body temperature drops too low. For older adults, that number is around 95 degrees F. Hypothermia can lead to many other health problems including heart attack, kidney problems and liver damage. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half of all hypothermia-related deaths are in adults 65 years and older.
You may not notice early signs of hypothermia. They include cold hands and feet, a puffy or swollen face, pale skin, confusion, anger and sleepiness. Later signs of hypothermia include trouble walking or clumsiness; stiff, jerky arm and leg movements; slow heartbeat; slow, shallow breaths and blacking out. Shivering can be an early sign of hypothermia but is not a guarantee. In fact, some people experiencing hypothermia do not shiver at all.
Being outside during cold weather or even inside a chilly house can cause hypothermia. Try to stay inside on chilly days, especially those that are also windy and damp. If you cannot stay in, remember to dress in loose fitting layers to keep yourself warm and wear a hat and scarf as you tend to lose a lot of body heat from your head and neck. Keep your thermostat set at 68 degrees F or higher to make sure you stay warm enough inside during the winter. Remember to also wear warm clothes while inside and use blankets for additional warmth. If you are worried about heating costs, close off doors and vents in unused rooms. Keep the basement door closed at all times, and put rolled up towels by doors to block drafts.
Medical conditions including thyroid disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, memory loss and arthritis can make it harder for you to stay warm. Some prescription and over-the-counter medications can also affect body heat. Talk to your doctor about ways to stay warm if you have these conditions and before you start or stop any medication.
If you think yourself or a loved one is experiencing hypothermia, seek immediate medical attention. For more information on weather-related issues or healthy aging, visit your Harlan County Extension office.
Lora Davidson is the Harlan County Extension agent for family & consumer sciences. Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability or national origin.