As we age, our ability to acclimatise to cold weather may change. Once upon a time we may not have felt the cold, but as we get older we may feel more sensitive to cold weather. This can occur for a number of reasons:
- A decrease in the metabolic rate. Ageing bodies are not capable of generating enough heat to maintain the normal body temperature of 36-37c.
- Thinning of the fat layer beneath the skin.
- Low blood pressure.
- Older people are often less physically active.
- Side effects from certain medications.
- Medical conditions such as thyroid disease or high cholesterol.
- Poor blood circulation.
Signs of cold sensitivity are more than just feeling cold or shivering! They can also include:
- Skin turning pale.
- A slower rate of breathing.
- Undue fatigue.
- Loss of co-ordination.
- Memory loss.
There are a number of things we can do to assist the elderly to stay warm. These include:
- Raising the ambient temperature.
- Ensuring their home is well insulated to retain the heat and draft proofing doors and windows.
- Providing warm beverages such as tea/coffee or a cup of Milo.
- Warming the bed with an electric blanket, or by layering blankets rather than using just one heavy blanket or doona.
- Dressing in layers rather than heavy clothing, and starting with basic thermals such as a vest.
- Trying to get your loved one to move around, rather than sitting all the time.
- Supplying a wheat pack, or back/hand warmer which can heated quickly in the microwave.
- Eating well, for eg. hearty soups which contain nutrients required to maintain a healthy immune system.
- Ensuring your loved one has their flu vaccination just before winter, as flu can progress to pneumonia.
On the flip side, there are studies that link a low body temperature to a long life! Scientists suspect that the hormonal changes that conserve energy and heat by slowing down the metabolism, can also extend life. Assisting the elderly to best cope with winter just takes a little preparation and care.
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