Hypothermia (Low Body
- Cold weather can cause many problems, especially in the elderly who are
vulnerable to such low temperatures.
- Hypothermia means low body temperature, which can result in millions
during severe cold weather.
- Sometimes, the people don't even have to be outside in the cold weather
to get hypothermia. It can result from inadequate heating of the homes.
- The normal body temperature is 98.6 deg F (37 deg C).
- However, this temperature is an average throughout the day since the
temperature has a certain pattern to it. It tends to be lower in the
mornings and higher at nights.
- Hypothermia results when the body's temperature goes below 95 deg F (35 deg C).
- As a result, the body begins to experience some
- Hypothermia can develop even WITHOUT the temperature falling below
- If the room temperature is below 70 deg F, you put yourself at risk for
- Because your mind becomes confused due to hypothermia, you may not
realize the problem and seek help.
- The friends and relatives of the older adults at home have to learn to
recognize hypothermia when it develops, even if they themselves might not be affected.
When ANY of these symptoms is present in an older adult at home,
contact your doctor immediately: (also see
Care for Hypothermia)
- The heart begins to slow down.
- Body becomes weak
- Mind becomes drowsy, confused, and forgetful.
- Difficulty speaking
- Sleepy and hard to wake up
- More severe cases can result in death.
- Person may look pale and puffy-faced.
- Areas of body that are normally warm (armpits, groin, stomach, etc.) are
- Trembling to one side of the body.
- Breathing becomes slow and shallow
- Muscles become stiff
- Loss of consciousness
- Heart beat may be faint and irregular
- Heart may stop if body temperature falls below 90 deg F (32.2 deg C)
- Stay WARM!!! Stay WARM!! Stay WARM!!! This is your only best defense
- Dress warmly if you are going out in cold weather or even in the home if
temperature is low.
- Wool is much better than cotton to keep you warm
- Synthetics are like wool and will keep you warm compared to cottons
- Down or quilted synthetics are also good clothes to wear for protection
and keeping warm.
- Eat well. Hot, nourishing meals and warm drinks add heat to the
body. Have a hot chocolate, tea or coffee. Eat healthy and warm meals (have
hot pasta and not a cold turkey sandwich)
- Prevent the RISK FACTORS
- Living in cold house
- Poor Diet
- Food is the fuel that runs your body's engine to keep you warm.
- Stroke or Diabetes
- Taking certain prescription drugs that may increase your risk of getting
- High blood pressure medications
- Medications for nervousness, depression or sleeping
- Call 911, an ambulance or rescue squad and the person's physician.
( See ER Treatment)
- Handle the person with care and very gently
- Put some blankets, quilts, towels on the person, or have them wear extra
clothes to keep warm, making sure to cover the head and neck as well (but not suffocating
- DO NOT give hot drinks or hot food. If this wasn't an emergency,
hot drinks and hot foods help to keep warm but not at this time.
- DO NOT raise the legs of the person. This puts more load on the
heart with more blood returning to it but due to hypothermia, the heart is slow and can't
- DO NOT let the victim walk
- DO NOT place hot water bottles on the feet or apply any direct heat.
- DO NOT have the person take a hot shower or bath.
- DO NOT give any alcohol or drugs -- this should be quite explanatory by
- DO NOT massage the arms or legs or rub his/her skin to warm
- warm drinks
- covering the head from where much of body's heat loss occurs
In a young person (baby may look healthy and pink but appear
drowsy and limp)
- Usually warmed in a hot bath (NOT DONE IN ELDERLY because it makes blood
rush to the surface of the body taking blood away from the heart and brain)
- The baby is rewarmed by keeping him or her well wrapped.
- If victim is unconscious but breathing, he/she is placed in the recovery
- If victim is not breathing, artificial respiration is given
- Warming in the elderly is carried out gradually (1 deg F or 0.6 deg C
per hour) by placing the person in a room with 78 deg F or 25 deg C temperature and the
person is also covered with layers of space blankets (have heat reflecting material)
- Rectal temperature is monitored (because rectum is the best place to
take body temperature) and this is done every half an
hour until the temperature and the
vital signs of the person return to normal.
- When hypothermia is life-threatening, the person is safely warmed in the
intensive care unit.
- The blood is passed outside of the body through tubes where an external
source warms the blood and that warm blood returns to the body.
- Also, warm fluid may be put into the abdominal cavity to warm the body
- Mayor's Commission on Affairs of the Elderly, City of Boston; Boston
Seniority: Serving Boston's Elderly Community; Volume 19, Number 9, October/November 1995
- Clayman M.D., Charles B., The American Medical Association Encyclopedia
of Medicine, Random House, New York, 1989.