A caregiver must be aware of the sensitivities that senior have towards extremes of heat and cold. The dangers of extreme coldInactive older adults generate less body heat and can easily lose body temperature. If a senior experiences cold he or she should wear multiple layers and use extra blankets. And when going out, bundle up. Wear gloves, a hat and several layers. Stay indoors on cold, windy days. Winds hasten cooling. A drop in core body temperature is extremely dangerous to seniors. Symptoms include confusion, sleepiness, slow slurred speech, a weak slow pulse, extremity stiffness, and slow reactions. Shivering may or may not be present. To help someone with hypothermia until emergency medical help arrives, keep him or her warm with additional blankets. If he or she can swallow, offer warm liquids, but no alcohol, which expands blood vessels near the surface and thereby lets the much needed body heat to escape. Do not rub the person’s skin.The dangers of extreme heatAs we get older we experience in the sensation of temperature. Causes include changes in the skin, a thinner layer of fat just below the surface of the skin, or to changes in the sensation of heat or cold. Thyroid conditions, circulatory ailments, strokes dementia, decreased mobility, medications and alcohol all impede an older person’s ability to keep warm.Several other factors can make controlling body temperature difficultHumidity hinders the cooling process, because perspiration doesn’t evaporate as quickly.High blood pressure and inefficient sweat glands affect temperature control, as does lack of conditioning.Sedatives and tranquilizers may also decrease the body’s ability to cool down.Diuretics or water pills increase the risk of dehydration. Heat strokeCan occur within 10 or 15 minutes. Symptoms of this potentially lethal rise in body temperature include confusion, bizarre behaviors, a strong, rapid pulse, dry, flushed skin with no sweat, headache or nausea. First aid for heat–related illnesses includes moving to a cool, shady place, offering cool liquids, if able to swallow, packing in ice, if possible, and calling for medical assistance.Preventing heat illnessesSeveral seemingly effortless actions can prevent these heat emergencies.BeveragesOlder persons should drink water or a fruit juice on a regular schedule rather than waiting until they feel thirsty. Avoid beverages containing alcohol and caffeine, which act as diuretics and deplete needed fluid. Do not take salt tablets unless directed by your doctor.Air ConditioningSet the unit to a comfortable temperature. Seniors may not want a room as cool as you might prefer. Their needs are different so it is important to ensure that the climate temperature for a senior is best suited for them.Be Prepared for Temperature ChangesAging makes regulating body temperature more challenging during hot and cold spells. Seasonal temperature changes and activities once taken for granted pose potential problems with declining reserves, chronic conditions and medications. Play it safe— have the senior wear seasonal clothing and modify established habits.
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