We, at Alfredhouse Assisted Living Care understand that winter is a vulnerable time for the elderly people, especially when dementia is involved. Statistics over the last several years reflect that those over the age of 65 are at a higher mortality risk from cold-related conditions in the winter than the rest of the population. Those over 85 the risk is even higher, with actual death rates at about 1.5 per 100,000 in contrast to 0.5 per 100,000 for the general population.
The medical term for the condition of low body temperature that results from prolonged exposure to cold is “hypothermia.” Hypothermia sets in when the body temperature drops below 95° F. For the average healthy human body, this is serious enough, but in the elderly population it can cause liver damage and kidney problems, and may even induce a heart attack.
It is important to understand why the elderly people are at a higher risk of experiencing hypothermia. As the human body ages, it becomes less efficient at regulating body temperature. The skin becomes less sensitive to temperature variations, and the brain, therefore, does not receive accurate information regarding how cold the external environment really is. Thus, the elderly person may not feel “cold,” even when the outside temperature is dangerously low. Also, the elderly people tend to have a lower body-mass index than the average adult, and smaller bodies tend to lose heat more quickly than larger bodies.
To add to these age-related factors, many elderly people have medical conditions that may affect body temperature. Thyroid problems can affect the body’s ability to maintain normal body temperature. Diabetes can affect the normal flow of blood, which is essential in keeping the body warm. Parkinson’s Disease and arthritis can affect motor functions and thus prevent the person from taking steps to get out of the cold or dress warmly or use a blanket. Dementia can cause the elderly people to forget that they have not dressed warmly enough for the cold temperatures that they will be exposed to. In addition, the elderly are often on medications for various age-related and other illnesses, and these medications—even medication for the common cold—can affect the way the body regulates heat and reacts to low temperatures.
Besides these physiological factors, there are psychosocial factors that make the elderly people more vulnerable. Many elderly people live on a fixed income and tend to economize; they lower their indoor heating environment which results in hypothermia. The problem of a dangerously cold indoor environment is often compounded by the fact that many elderly live in isolation, and there are no younger people around to notice that the living space is not warm enough. Finally, many elderly people, especially those in their late 60s and early 70s do not think of themselves as “old” and thus tend to underestimate the danger they are in. This goes hand-in-hand with the attitude among many elderly people that they have lived a long life, have gone through many harsh and adverse experiences, and can therefore “tough it out” as they did in their young days.
If you have elderly members in your family or in your social circle, it is important to be aware that they are more vulnerable in winter than the average person.
AlfredHouse Assisted Living Care wishes all its patrons and members of the community a safe and happy holiday season. We offer not just affordable Senior Housing in US, but make sure that all our residents live cosily, safely and comfortably.