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Signs Of Hypothermia & Malnutrition In The Elderly

Signs of Hypothermia & Malnutrition in the Elderly

Even though your loved one may stay inside and have a house full of food, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she won’t suffer from hypothermia or malnutrition. Older skin is thin and appetites wax and wane. Dementia may change behaviors and clarity of thought. All of these things can begin to deteriorate the usual safety measures that protect individuals from getting cold and hungry. It’s important to know the subtle signs and symptoms so that you can protect your loved one from hypothermia and malnutrition.

The most common causes of hypothermia include:

  • The body’s faulty thermostat: Older people can suffer from hypothermia due to the body’s inability to regulate temperature.
    • This can happen due to natural aging.
    • Certain medications including some antidepressants, antipsychotics, narcotics and sedatives.
    • Chronic medical conditions such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injuries or nerve damage from diabetes.
  • Inability to notify loved ones: Mental illness and dementia can interfere with an older person’s ability to communicate when they are cold, or remember that they are constantly cold.
  • Insufficient indoor temperatures: The Mayo Clinic says that an older person can develop hyperthermia “after prolonged exposure to indoor temperatures that would generally be fine for a younger or healthier adult. This can occur in a poorly heated home or in an air-conditioned home.”

Signs and symptoms of hypothermia:

Taking your loved one’s temperature will not necessarily indicate hypothermia. The body temperature can be normal in hypothermia’s mild stage. The first signs and symptoms are initiated by the body to fight the cold:

  • Shivering
  • Dizziness
  • Hunger
  • Nausea
  • Faster breathing
  • Trouble speaking
  • Slight confusion
  • Lack of coordination
  • Fatigue
  • Increased heart rate

The American Academy of Family Physicians says that with time and fatigue other symptoms will occur including:

  • Apathy
  • Impaired judgment
  • Lack of muscle coordination that can affect speech, eye movements, the ability to swallow, walking, picking up objects and other voluntary movements.
  • A decrease in blood circulation
  • Excessive urination

Malnutrition is a lack of nutrients

Malnutrition isn’t caused by not eating enough – it is caused by not digesting the proper nutrients necessary for proper body function and good health. The Alliance for Aging Research says one in every two older adults in the US may be at risk for malnutrition.

The three main types of malnutrition are generally considered to be medical, social and psychological.

  1. Medical:
    • The body loses its sense of taste and smell.
    • Multiple chronic conditions may complicate dietary restrictions and/or the ability to eat.
  2. Social:
    • It’s not appetizing to cook or eat alone
  3. Psychological:
    • Dementia and other cognitive impairments interfere with the individual’s ability to shop and feed themselves.

The two main symptoms of malnutrition are:

  1. Sudden, unexplained weight loss
  2. Decreased food intake

Other symptoms include:

  • Poor wound healing
  • Easy bruising
  • Dental problems

If you believe your loved one is suffering from hypothermia or malnutrition, act immediately. Talk to your loved one’s physician, and seek support. Family Matters can arrive immediately to help improve your loved one’s living circumstances. We can help to make sure they are eating nutritious foods and staying warm.  Our caregivers are trained to plan and cook nutritious meals and provide companionship that will improve your loved one’s sense of well-being.

You don’t have to go it alone. Call Family Matters to ensure that your loved one is safe and well even when you can’t be there.

Carol Pardue-Spears

Carol has worked in the healthcare field for more than forty years. As a Certified Nursing Assistant, she worked for El Camino Hospital in the cardiac unit, Los Gatos Community Hospital, The Women’s Cancer Center in Los Gatos and several home health and hospice agencies. Carol founded Family Matters in 2002 to fill a deficit she witnessed in high-quality, in-home services and care.

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