There are several sources for helping senior citizens stay warm.Community Action Agencies operate low-income home energy assistance programs. You can find a list of addresses and telephone numbers for your country from the Office of Economic Opportunity.
Other sources are the information, referral and assistance specialists operating within the 10 AAA offices in South Carolina. For a list of addresses and telephone numbers click here.
Cold Stress (Hypothermia)
Much like high blood pressure, hypothermia can be called a "silent killer" in the sense that many of its victims are not aware of the threat. In the case of hypothermia, elderly persons may not be aware they are becoming cold as readily as younger people, and their bodies may not adjust to changes in temperature.
Hypothermia (literally "low-heat") is a condition marked by an abnormally low internal body temperature. It develops when body heat is lost to a cool or cold environment faster than it can be replaced. Temperatures do not have to be below freezing for hypothermia to occur, especially in vulnerable individuals. Many older adults can develop a low body temperature after exposure to conditions of mild cold, which would only produce discomfort in younger people.
Who Is At Risk?
Although older adults are more vulnerable to hypothermia than younger members of the population, infants under one year are also particularly susceptible. Among the elderly, those most likely to develop hypothermia are the sick, the frail, the very old, the poor who can't afford enough heat, and those medically vulnerable individuals who do not know how to keep warm when exposed to the cold.
Others who are susceptible include individuals who (1) live alone or in isolated areas (particularly if they don't have access to nearby phones to reach help in case of accident or illness); (2) do not shiver or react to cold; and (3) take certain medications that prevent the body from regulating temperatures normally, such as anti-depressants, sedatives, tranquilizers, and cardiovascular drugs. Drugs deserve special mention because they are thought to be a major predisposing factor to hypothermia in older adults, who, while comprising little more than 10 percent of the population, consume 25 percent of the nation's prescription drugs. Check with a doctor or pharmacist for information on other drugs that increase susceptibility to hypothermia.
Hypothermia can cause illness and death. Although there are no accurate data on the number of elderly persons dying of this condition, it is estimated that about 10 percent of all persons over 65 have some sort of temperature-regulating defect, and between three and four percent of all hospital patients over 65 are hypothermic. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) estimates that over 2.5 million older Americans are especially vulnerable to hypothermia, and Dr. Richard Besdine of the Harvard Medical School estimates that 25,000 older adults may die from hypothermia each year in the United States.
What You Can Do?
To avoid being harmed by hypothermia, now that cold weather has come to many parts of the United States, here is some practical advice:
What To Look For
Some people die of hypothermia because they or those around them do not recognize the symptoms. Here are some signs to watch for:
Note: 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.
What To Do
If you believe someone may be a victim of hypothermia, call an ambulance or rescue squad immediately. Hypothermia is a dangerous, complicated medical problem and the victim needs professional attention. However, before help arrives, here are some suggestions:
For More Information
This Special Report is based on information furnished by the National Institute on Aging; and the Center for Environmental Physiology, a non-profit organization which conducts research and develops educational programs about heat and cold stress with particular emphasis on the needs of older Americans.
Additional information can be found in your local library, public health agencies, energy offices, and Area Agencies on Aging. Check your telephone directory's white pages under U.S. Government for the address and telephone number.
Permission to reproduce this Special Report is granted.
Copyright © 2012 State of South Carolina