Iowa is a great place for seniors. In fact, MoneyRates.com named Iowa the #1 state in the US to retire in 2017, even beating out sunny Hawaii, which took the #2 spot. But as much we love our state, we’re not in love with the cold Iowa winters.
The US was hit hard by a rough cold and flu season this year. But it’s not just the common cold that is cause for concern this winter—dropping temperatures increase the risk of hypothermia, especially among seniors.
What is hypothermia?
Hypothermia occurs when the body’s temperature drops below 94 degrees and is most often the result of prolonged exposure to cold. It is a critical condition that requires emergency medical care.
As we age, it becomes harder for our bodies to regulate heat efficiently, making seniors especially vulnerable to hypothermia. Some chronic illnesses also affect how bodies regulate temperature. Heart disease, diabetes, hypothyroidism and certain medications can make it difficult to keep body temperature up, and weaken your natural defenses.
What are the symptoms of hypothermia?
The most common symptoms include, but are not limited to:
- Slurred speech
- Decreased coordination or clumsiness
- Short, slow breathing
- Memory loss and forgetfulness
- Weakened pulse and slow heart rate
The symptoms of hypothermia can come on slowly. Shivering is often the first warning sign that people look for, however, some people shiver less or not at all as they age, so it’s important not to rule out hypothermia if there is no shivering.
Additionally, since confusion is a common symptom, it’s hard to recognize symptoms when you’re the one exhibiting them. It’s important that you talk to loved ones about the warning signs, so they can help you and others seek medical care if hypothermia is suspected.
What you can do to prevent hypothermia
- Make it a habit to check the weather before you venture outside and minimize your time spent outdoors on cold days. When you do go outside, dress in layers and cover the most critical areas of your body, especially the hands, feet, mouth and nose. Be sure to change out of any wet clothing as soon as you’re back indoors. All of this may seem obvious, but it’s tempting to leave the house without your winter coat when you’re only travelling short distances. Even brief exposure to cold temperatures calls for the appropriate attire. So be sure to bundle up, even if you’re just running a quick errand.
- Keep your pantry stocked with hearty food choices during the winter months in case it’s too cold to go shopping. Some grocery stores like Hy-Vee offer home deliveries that can save you a trip out into the cold.
- Keep your house warm and set your thermostat to 68 degrees or higher. Even indoor temperatures in the low 60s can lead to hypothermia. It’s not worth risking your health to save money on your heating bill!
- Maintain a healthy diet, drink plenty of fluids and avoid alcohol and nicotine. Keeping your body healthy is the best defense. Exercise can also be helpful, and gets your body to produce more heat. Be sure to talk to your doctor before beginning any new exercise regime.
- Don’t ignore the warning signs of hypothermia or wait for them to go away on their own. If you think you or a loved one may be hypothermic, call 9-1-1 immediately.
- Click here to read our blog for additional tips to stay healthy during cold and flu season.
This blog contains discussion about health-related subjects, and is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnose or treat any disease or illness. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please contact your doctor immediately or call 9-1-1.