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The Weather Inside is Frightful!

Prevention is key to avoiding hypothermia
Christopher Furlong/ Getty Images

The weather outside might be frightful but being in your own home can be just as scary. Hypothermia is a real risk factor for the sick and elderly, even in their own home. Hypothermia is what happens when your body temperature gets below 95 degrees. It can cause a heart attack, kidney problems, liver damage or death.

Elderly and sick people are more prone to hypothermia because their body's response to cold is diminished by illnesses, poor circulation and being less active. Some medications such as anti-depressants, sedatives, tranquilizers, cardiovascular drugs and even over the counter cold medicine can prevent the body from regulating temperatures normally. Medication is thought to be a major predisposing factor to hypothermia in older adults. It is important to check with a doctor or pharmacist for more information regarding your medications. A person with hypothermia usually isn't aware of their condition because the symptoms are gradual. It is important to make sure that someone is checking up on anyone who is at risk. Knowing the symptoms and treatments can save a life.

Here is a list of symptoms you should look out for. Keep in mind that these signs do not necessarily mean a person is suffering from hypothermia; they are listed to alert you to the possibility.

  • Shivering is your body's defense to keep warm. Constant shivering is a sign of hypothermia
  • Clumsiness or lack of coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion or difficulty thinking
  • Drowsiness or very low energy
  • Weak pulse
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Muscles unusually stiff
  • Puffy or swollen face
  • Body temperatures below 95 degrees
  • Apathy, not caring what happens and putting self in more danger such as removing warm clothes
  • Irritable, hostile, mean or aggressive

Hypothermia is a medical emergency you should call 911. While waiting for help try to warm the person slowly. Add blankets or extra clothing. Cover their head with a hat or towel. Raise the indoor temperature. If the person is conscious give them something warm to drink. Do not place a person in a hot shower or bath. Do not use a heating pad. An electric blanket or hot water bottle to gradually warm the body is fine. Do not give alcohol or drugs.

The best way to avoid hypothermia is prevention. Here are a few tips to keeping you warmer this winter.

  • Do not allow room temperatures to fall below 68 degrees-if you are struggling to pay for heating, call the National Energy Assistance Referral Hotline toll-free at 866-674-6327
  • Drink plenty of fluids to keep hydrated
  • Avoid caffeinated beverages, which are diuretics causing heat loss
  • Avoid alcohol which makes the body more difficult to retain heat
  • Close off vents and shut doors in rooms you are not using
  • Place a rolled towel in front of all doors to keep out drafts
  • Keep you blinds and curtains closed to keep in heat
  • Check your temperature periodically to make sure it is above 95 degrees