Seniors are at higher risk of suffering from hypothermia and dehydration than people of other ages. These conditions can occur much faster and in conditions that might not seem extreme enough to cause hypothermia or dehydration in others. That is why it is important to know the causes, signs and symptoms of these conditions so that you can keep your loved one safe. Here are some important facts about hypothermia and dehydration.
What is hypothermia?
When body temperature dips below its normal rate of 98.6 degrees and stays below that for an extended period of time, hypothermia can occur. It can begin when the body temperature lowers to 95 degrees. Hypothermia usually occurs when someone is an extremely cold environment for an extended period of time. However, as the body ages it is less able to protect the body from cold because it has less less fat stores, poorer circulation and a slower metabolism. In addition, disease and some medications may lower the body’s ability to protect itself against the cold.
Some health conditions may actually lower a senior’s ability to feel the cold, including diabetes, thyroid disease, Parkinson’s disease, and arthritis. Over the counter medications can impair a senior’s ability to feel cold temperatures. Together, all of these factors pose a risk to a senior’s ability to know they are cold and it reduces the amount of time it takes for mild hypothermia to set in.
Because of the aging body’s declining ability to keep itself warm, the temperature of a senior’s house should always be between 68 and 70 degrees. However, in an effort to save money, seniors may keep the heat in their home lower than that. Consistently sitting in temperatures that are lower than 68 degrees can lead to mild hypothermia.
Some of the signs and symptoms of hypothermia include:
- Slurred speech or mumbling
- Slow, shallow breathing
- Weak pulse
- Clumsiness or lack of coordination
- Drowsiness or very low energy
- Confusion or memory loss
- Loss of consciousness
You can help your loved one to avoid hypothermia by following these tips:
- Check in on your loved one frequently. If you live a distance from him or her, ask a neighbor to check in on them daily.
- Check the home for drafts. Block drafts under doors with rolled blankets. Hang heavy curtains in front of windows with drafts. Move furniture so that it blocks drafts.
- Make sure your loved one has warm clothing to wear indoors. Insulated underwear is always a good idea and provides a layer of warmth under any clothing. Encourage your loved one to wear layers of clothing to stay warm.
- Make sure there are blankets and throws around the house for your loved one to use when sitting.
- Ask your loved one’s physician if any of the medication he or she is taking could increase a risk of hypothermia.
- Set the thermostat at 68 to 70 degrees and educate your loved one as to why it is important to leave it at that temperature.
What is dehydration?
According to the National Medical Association, dehydration is the most common fluid problem in the elderly. It occurs when the body loses more fluid than it takes in and doesn’t have enough water for organs to function properly. This can happen easily in seniors because an aging body has a lower volume of water. In addition, health conditions, chronic disease, some medications and low-level infections like a bladder infection can cause dehydration in seniors. Age may also alter the perception of thirst, meaning that dehydration can occur without the senior feeling thirsty. All of these factors create higher risk.
Here are some of the signs and symptoms of dehydration in seniors:
- Dark urine
- Decreased urination
- Mouth is dry
- Muscles are weak
- Headache and/or dizziness
- Fatigue and lethargy
- Eyes are sunken in
- Skin is dry and shriveled
- Heart rate increases
- Low blood pressure
If you notice any of the symptoms of mild or moderate dehydration give your loved one fluids and then contact his or her physician. If you notice the signs of extreme dehydration seek medical help immediately.
How to prevent dehydration in seniors
The best strategy is to prevent dehydration but ensuring that seniors drinks lots of liquids daily. Eating fruits and vegetables with high water content will also help to prevent it. You can help your loved one to avoid becoming dehydrated by following these tips:
- Make sure that fluids your loved one likes to drink are readily available in the house. Make sure that the refrigerator is always stocked with drinks.
- Encourage your loved one to develop a habit of drinking liquids at specific times of day to ensure they drink enough; in the morning, mid-morning, lunchtime, mid-afternoon and with dinner.
- Add fruits and vegetables to your loved one’s diet. Some are naturally full of water like watermelon, cucumbers, iceberg lettuce, strawberries, tomatoes and broccoli.
- Encourage your loved one to drink more fluids if they are ill, are vomiting or have diarrhea.
As seniors age they can become more vulnerable to conditions like hypothermia and dehydration. Knowing the facts and how to prevent these conditions can increase senior wellness and prevent adverse health events.
If you or your family member is considering in-home care as part of a plan to age in place, contact Family Matters In-Home Care today for a free consultation. Our team is dedicated to supporting your family and helping older adults enjoy life in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.
Some of the services offered by Family Matter In-Home Care include: Alzheimer’s & Dementia Care, Bed & Wheelchair Transfer Assistance, Companionship, Housekeeping & Meal Preparation, Personal Care, Recovery Care, and Transportation.