We all get a winter chill now and then. But it seems to affect our aging parents even more.
Our bodies lose their ability to keep warm as we age, and staying warm seems to get that much harder. Sometimes a warm blanket, cozy socks, and a little extra TLC is all mom needs. But if we aren’t careful, that chill can turn into something more serious. It’s crucial to stay on guard against hypothermia and related health problems.
Why Does The Cold Have A Bigger Impact On The Elderly?
Our bodies change as we age. And some of those changes affect our ability to regulate our internal temperature. As we get older, we lose some of the mechanisms that keep us warm (including body fat in many cases). Here are some of the reasons the cold hits mom harder:
- Thermoregulation is our body’s ability to maintain its core temperature despite heat or cold outside. Our metabolism, which controls our internal thermostat, gets slower as we age. We lose our ability to stay warm naturally and need support.
- As we age, our blood vessels lose elasticity, and circulation slows down. Decreased circulation reduces blood flow to our extremities in particular and causes cold hands and feet.
- The fat layer that provides insulation beneath our skin gets thinner as we age. So we lose an additional source of protection against the cold.
- According to the National Institute on Aging, several underlying medical conditions can heighten sensitivity to cold. These include thyroid conditions, diabetes, and Parkinson’s Disease.
- Medications, including prescriptions for high blood pressure, can also interfere with regulating body temperature.
When Does Cold Become A Concern for the Elderly?
Getting chilly from time to time is a common phenomenon in seniors. But as our loved one’s age, we need to be aware of the real danger that hypothermia presents. When body temperature drops below 95 degrees, it’s cause for alarm. According to the National Institute on Aging, hypothermia in seniors can cause heart attack, kidney problems, and liver damage. NIA identifies several early and later-stage signs of hypothermia.
Early warning signs of hypothermia:
- Cold hands and feet
- Puffy or swollen face
- Pale skin
Signs of more advanced hypothermia:
- Moving slowly or trouble walking
- Stiff and jerky arm or leg movements
- Slow, shallow breathing
- Blacking out or losing consciousness
How Can I Help Mom Stay Warm As She Ages?
In most cases, we can help mom stay warm with good communication, supervision, and support. Here are some tips for helping mom stay healthy and comfortable:
- Keep the house warm. Many frugal seniors try to keep the thermostat low to save money on energy bills. But if it’s too cold in the home, it can be dangerous. The National Institute on Aging recommends setting the thermostat at least 68 or 70 degrees to keep seniors comfortable. Remember that energy assistance is available for seniors in need.
- Make sure mom stays hydrated during the winter months. Drinking water improves circulation and helps the body regulate temperature.
- Help mom get the nutrition she needs to maintain a healthy body weight.
- Keep mom active during the winter with supervised walks, virtual classes, and age-appropriate exercise equipment.
- Dress for the weather when going outside, including a hat and gloves. Seniors with memory loss may go out without the right clothing, so supervision is essential.
- Dress in layers and change clothes right away if they get damp.
- Circulation to the feet is often a problem, so warm socks are essential. Cozy slippers with good traction can help mom stay safe and comfortable around the house.
How Can I Help Keep Mom Safe and Warm?
When it comes to helping our elderly loved ones through the winter months, excellent communication and frequent check-ins are essential. Keep mom on track with gentle reminders, and make sure she has appropriate clothing on hand.
Mom may have memory loss or other medical conditions that lead to concerns about her well-being. In that case, it’s time to start a conversation about long term care. At Evergreen Health & Rehab, meeting residents’ needs for physical and emotional health is a top priority. We focus on nutrition, hydration, and physical activity at all fitness levels to help keep seniors safe and healthy. Our memory care unit helps seniors navigate memory loss challenges safely and prevents neglect of necessary self-care, including keeping warm. It’s a secure and comfortable setting to keep mom safe and warm while bringing peace of mind for family members.