Hypothermia is a condition in which the body temperature drops by more than 2 °C below a normal level, which is about 37 °C. If the hypothermia lasts longer than a few hours, death is possible. In addition, a person whose body temperature drops below 25 °C has only 30% chances of survival.
Hypothermia and freezing are possible in anyone who has been exposed to severe cold for some time without adequate protection. Additionally, hypothermia can always occur in people who swim in the cold northern seas.
However, most ”victims” of hypothermia are elderly people (mostly people over the age of 75), for two main reasons. First, the body of the elderly hardly manages to maintain a constant temperature when exposed to severe colds. Second, the body mechanism that detects a fall in body temperature gradually loses sensitivity, and some older people are unaware of the fact that their body temperature has fallen to a dangerous level.
If you encounter an old person who is apathetic sitting or lying in a cold room, always think about the possible hypothermia, even if the person is covered with several blankets or has warm cloth. Possible initial symptoms of hypothermia include drowsiness, confusion, and paleness; after that, a person is losing consciousness. The hands and feet of the person with hypothermia are obviously cold to the touch, although cold belly is a much more significant sign of hypothermia. Of course, body temperature will be best determined by a thermometer.
Every winter, UK hospital receives an average of about 9,000 elderly people due to hypothermia, and about 500 of them die. However, those who die are usually people whose deaths are attributed to other causes, such as cardiac decompensation. In the majority of cases, old people and elderly people who are living in bad conditions are affected. However, wealthy people can also suffer due to social isolation.
What to do?
First of all, if you have older cousins or neighbors, take certain precautionary measures. When it is cold, visit them as often as you can and make sure that they have enough warm clothes and blankets, that they eat well and that the temperature in their rooms is at least 20 °C. Also make sure they are using the right to social assistance (Red Cross activists and social workers). When needed and available, food, warm clothing and firewood are given to them. Individuals are given daily meals in the house.
If you find an older person who appears to be at the initial stage of hypothermia, take it to your nearest physician. If the person is already unconscious, call for immediate help. (Unconsciousness may be the result of some other condition, not hypothermia, such as a stroke or a heart attack – so an urgent procedure is necessary.) While waiting for help, try to gradually warm the patient’s cold body. If the person is still conscious, you can help it with extra blankets and a hot drink, but do not give alcoholic drink to that person. Be very careful. Do not put heavy blankets on the person (especially if that person is weak), do not force him/her to eat or drink and do not rub his/hers hands or feet roughly when trying to warm up a said person.
The key process in treating hypothermia is gradual warming up the chilled body, which is something that doctors do, in the hospital or out of the hospital. The procedure must be gradual, because a rapid warming could cause a sudden enlargement of the blood vessels on the surface of the body. In this case, a sudden ”rush” of the blood into the swollen vessels can cause a lack of blood in vital organs.