Q. Due to my mother’s decline in both physical and cognitive health I make frequent trips to spend time with her and monitor her functional status. The last visit as soon as I opened the front door I was met with a blast of heat. The temperature in the house was up to 80 degrees. I realize this is winter and it has been cold but I could hardly breathe in the house it was so hot. She insists she is cold even when the furnace is turned up that high. Is there any way to keep her comfortable without making everyone else miserable?
A. As we age our metabolic responses to cold may be slower. Older adults tend to be less active and may not be eating the same diet as they did when they were younger which can contribute to their feeling cold. There are also numerous health conditions such as diabetes, vitamin deficiency, and cardiovascular disease (to name a few) which causes a person to feel frigid when others are perfectly comfortable in the same environment.
Medications may also play a role in this problem. There are drugs which can decrease the heart rate which in turn can reduce the circulation of blood to hands and feet. Other drugs relax the blood vessels resulting heat loss. Review any medications your mother may be taking to determine if this is an issue with her.
Whatever the cause your mother obviously is having a difficult time tolerating the cold. There are things you can do to make her more comfortable and while they may not totally return her to a normal response to the colder temperature it may help. Anyone who has spent time in an area that has extreme weather during the winter months will tell you one of the first rules is to wear layers as opposed to bulky clothing. If your mother does not already have insulated underwear it would be wise to make a purchase. The fashion industry has come a long way from the old “long johns” of yesteryear. There are brands of comfortable and attractive clothing intended to wear under regular clothing. Socks are a must and are available in multiple weights.
Encourage your mother to eat regular meals and hot drinks such as cocoa and tea may also make her more comfortable. Everyone should avoid excessive alcohol intake during extreme cold temperatures. Do a spot check of the house to make sure windows and doors are not drafty. Encourage her to use shawls or lap blankets when she is sitting for an extended period of time. Using flannel bedding will make her more comfortable at night and the bed can be pre-warmed with an electric blanket before she retires for the night. You may not convince her to turn down the furnace to a temperature you would choose but you may be able to come to a compromise.
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Joan Hatem-Roy is the CEO of Elder Services.