Sunday, January 15, 2006


Exposure to cold can result in a low body temperature known as hypothermia. The most common victims are older people who have difficulty keeping themselves or their homes warm.
In order for the human body to function properly, body temperature should be around 98.6° F (37° C). When body temperature drops below 95° the heart begins to slow, the body becomes weak, and the mind becomes confused. Death could soon follow. Many older people die in their own homes because they become too confused and disoriented to sense the danger and seek help. Many things such as living in a cold house, poor diet, stroke, diabetes, certain prescription drugs, or alcohol can increase the risk of becoming hypothermic. Outdoor temperatures do not have to be below freezing for hypothermia to develop. Indoors, room temperatures below 70 could be dangerous for some people if they are not dressed warmly enough.
Some of the danger signals of hypothermia are: confusion, difficulty speaking, forgetfulness, shivering, stiff muscles, stomach cold to touch, difficulty waking up, puffy face, trembling on one side of the body or in one arm or leg.
If hypothermia is suspected, call a doctor, ambulance, rescue squad, or local emergency room immediately. Handle the person very gently, covering him or her with blankets, quilts, or extra clothing. Make sure that the head and neck are covered. Do not give hot drinks or food or any medication. Do not massage the arms or legs or raise the legs. Wait for medical help before attempting to treat the patient in any way.
Dressing warmly is the best defense against hypothermia. Wear several layers of loose clothing, keeping the clothing dry. When outdoors, wear a wind-proof outer garment and mittens rather than gloves. Wearing a hat will enable the body to send warm blood to the hands and feet. Use a scarf around the neck. At night, hot water bottles, heating pads, and electric blankets will help to keep the bed warm. Utility companies provide programs for home insulation and other tips for home heating. State agencies can be contacted for assistance in paying fuel bills or providing services for the elderly.
Published by Center for Environment Physiology. Hypothermia Bulletin. Washington, D.C.: 1985.


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