While spring is just around the corner, many northern states are still dealing with the harsh winter weather, which means you still have to deal with certain health threats as well. Even in the tail end of winter, where the climate still bites back, there are health risks you need to be conscious of. There is frostbite, which we all know of. There is the hugely raised risk of suffering a fracture or broken bone from slipping on icy ground. And there is one health threat that the U.S. National Institute on Aging believes more people need to be aware of — hypothermia.
It doesn’t just happen to those who slip through a lake’s ice surface into the freezing waters beneath. It happens whenever there is a drop in body temperature, which is caused by staying outdoors in the cold for too long.
When a person’s core temperature drops below normal and stays that way for an extended period of time, hypothermia sets in. For older adults, it can be quite a dangerous condition (as it can lead to death). As usual, a body that has lived through five, six, seven, or more decades is more susceptible to this health threat, as its ability to withstand cold temperatures is lowered.
Also, older adults are more likely taking medications (both over-the-counter and prescription), or have been diagnosed with illnesses (such as diabetes), which raise the risk of hypothermia even more. More or less, when your body is preoccupied with, say, fighting a virus when you are taking pills for the common cold, or stabilizing its own blood- glucose levels, it pays less attention to other grave threats such as low temperature.
People in these situations can actually develop hypothermia after being exposed to even only mildly cold weather, or a small drop in temperature, which can be typical during the spring months. And that is something everyone should know about.
So, what to do? First, recognize if you or anybody you know might be suffering hypothermia. The symptoms include shivering, stiffness in the arms and legs, faint pulse, confusion, fatigue, slurred (or slow) speech, slow reactions, and poor control of body movements. If you are able to take an accurate temperature, 96 degrees is the worry point: if it’s 96 or lower, try and get warm and quickly call an ambulance.
Now, for prevention, ensure that your house is adequately warm, with the thermostat set to at least 68 degrees. The National Institute on Aging says that even homes with temperatures between 60 and 65 degrees can cause hypothermia in older people who are susceptible.
If money is a problem, which is for many families around the U.S., there is an organization that helps lower-income families keep up with their heating bills. Call the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program at (866) 674- 6327 for more information on this option.