About hypothermia and heat stress
What is hypothermia?
Hypothermia means low body temperature. It can occur when a person is exposed to cold and loses body heat faster than it can be replaced. The condition can be dangerous because normal body functions can be affected when body temperature drops below 95 degrees. Hypothermia can, in fact prove fatal if not recognized and treated properly. Older adults, who feel the effects of cold more, have a greater risk of developing hypothermia than younger people. Especially among the elderly, temperatures need not be below freezing for hypothermia to occur.
Be alert for any or all of these hypothermia symptoms
Caring for a hypothermia victim
Unfortunately, prolonged exposure to cold slows the heart beat, dulls the senses and weakens and confuses the victim so that he or she may not realize the danger or the need to seek help. Relatives and friends sometimes fail to recognize the symptoms, too.
Protect yourself against hypothermia
Dressing warmly is the best way to protect yourself against hypothermia. Room temperatures below 70 degrees F. can be dangerous to the person not dressed warmly enough. Wool is the best material for cold weather. Synthetics are better than cotton. You should dress in layers, since the air between the layers acts as insulation to help prevent loss of body heat. Loose-fitting clothing also will trap more heat around your body. Down or quilted synthetic clothing provides good protection for outdoor wear. Wear a hat or other head covering and wrap a warm scarf around your neck. Mittens are warmer than gloves.
Be alert to the risk of becoming hypothermic
Anyone taking medication for high blood pressure, nervousness, depression or sleeping may find it difficult to keep warm and should be especially cautious about hypothermia. Poor diet and malnutrition increase risk. Alcohol, because it increases the rate of heat loss from the body, acts similarly. Limited physical activity and living alone in a cold house also place older adults at greater risk of developing hypothermia.
Hot weather can be dangerous too!
Heat stress, which can be particularly dangerous for older adults, is most likely to occur in hot, humid weather, when temperatures reach 90 degrees F. and above. It can cause heat exhaustion, heat stroke, heart failure and stroke. The use of prescription drugs for high blood pressure, nervousness, depression, poor circulation or sleeping can make a person more vulnerable to the heat.
Symptoms of heat stress
If you experience these symptoms during hot weather, you should seek medical help: dizziness; rapid heartbeat; nausea; throbbing headache; lack of perspiration; mental changes; and breathing problems
How to avoid heat stress