How Walk In Tubs Help the Elderly Combat Cold Weather

Besides being plainly uncomfortable, cold weather presents significant health challenges to the elderly. Every year, cold snaps claim the lives of seniors who are unable to physically adjust to the temperature changes they experience. To most younger and middle aged adults, some of these temperature drops seem relatively insignificant and for that reason, it’s immensely important that caregivers, family and friends keep a careful watch on their elderly loved ones during times of temperature fluctuation. The good news is that with awareness and planning, many unfortunate incidents can be prevented. To that end, the walk in bathtub can play a helpful role in mitigating the risk cold weather poses to elderly people.

High Blood Pressure and Cold Weather

High Blood Pressure and Cold Weather

"Cold weather has been proven to increase blood pressure in the elderly. It's important to monitor blood pressure during cold weather and treat it accordingly." (Photo courtesy of IstockPhoto.com)

Recent studies have shown that cold weather increases blood pressure in elderly people. For some the change is slight, while in others it can be significant. Scientists are just starting to understand this relationship.

In some people, cold weather interferes with the body’s ability to regulate body temperature. Part of this system involves the constriction and dilation of different blood vessels in the body. If vessels constrict without need or too aggressively, blood pressure can spike. Sometimes the body keeps too much fluid in the blood, increasing blood volume and again increasing blood pressure. When a person is cold, the blood vessels in the extremities contract, limiting the space the blood can flow within the body. This can also raise a person’s blood pressure.  In others, cold weather causes emotional stress as a result of the uncomfortable physical sensations brought about by being cold. That emotional stress can lead to reactions in the body that constrict blood vessels and increase heart rate, leading to higher blood pressure.

Some elderly people will experience more than one of these issues, or a combination of all of them. Since higher blood pressure can increase the risk of stroke or heart attack in older people, it’s very important to keep an eye on blood pressure during colder weather and to immediately treat any changes that put a person at risk.

Walk In Tubs and High Blood Pressure

Walk in tubs can aid in the control of blood pressure in a few ways. First, walk in tubs offer full body soaks, and that type of bath is the best way to warm a person and increase their core body temperature. The effect of a warm bath on core body temperature can last for hours after a person has finished a soak in their walk in tub. Increasing an elderly person’s core body temperature can help mitigate the changes in the body that cold weather facilitates which in turn can lead to smaller elevations in blood pressure or perhaps no changes at all.

Secondly, a full body soak in a walk in bathtub is extremely enjoyable and relaxing. Helping a person relax can negate the negative emotional effects of cold weather and help a person lower their stress level. Any blood pressure increases caused by that stress may also dissipate.

In addition, full body soaks in walk in tubs can aid in circulation to the extremities and to the surface of the skin by causing dilation of the blood vessels in these areas, which can also help to lower blood pressure.

Of course, every person is unique and may respond differently to warm soaks in walk in tubs, and no one treatment is the right answer for everyone. As such, it’s extremely important to consult a doctor before embarking upon any regimen designed to combat cold-induced high blood pressure in elderly people.

Core Temperature Drops and Cold Weather

Core Temperature Drops and Cold Weather

"Elderly people are more sensitive to cold and less able to mitigate changes in temperature than younger people. It's important that they have all the tools necessary to maintain a healthy core body temperature." (Photo courtesy of IstockPhoto.com)

Elderly people are more sensitive to and are less able to mitigate changes in temperature as well as younger people for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, the biochemical processes that help control body temperature just don’t work as well in older people as they do in younger people. Secondly, older people have less body fat and less muscle mass than younger people. Body fat and muscle tissue act as insulation in the body and help retain body heat. When a person has less of both, drops in temperature – even moderate ones – can significantly affect the rate at which an older person loses heat and the rate at which their core body temperature falls. Lastly, as people age, their skin becomes thinner and looser, increasing the overall surface area and increasing the rate at which heat is transferred out of the body. As a result, older people lose heat more quickly than younger people and are more susceptible to outside temperature changes.

These combined susceptibilities can result in the onset of Hypothermia in an older person at temperatures that would not trigger it in a younger person. Hypothermia is a condition where a person’s core body temperature drops below safe levels and results in the malfunction of internal body systems. Hypothermia is extremely dangerous and in an elderly person, it can quickly become deadly. Symptoms of hypothermia include disorientation, confusion, fatigue, shivering, slurred speech, sleepiness, memory loss, irregular heartbeat, numbness in the extremities and cool or pale skin.

Walk In Bathtubs and Core Body Temperature

It’s pretty obvious that a long, full body soak in a warm walk in bathtub can raise a person’s core body temperature. One of the first treatments for a patient with hypothermia is the slow and steady raising of body temperature to help the body normalize its internal functions. Depending on the situation, this is usually accomplished with heated blankets, heated liquid compresses like hot water bottles, heating pads and hot baths.

Without a doubt, the best “treatment” for hypothermia is preventing it from happening in the first place. Hot baths in a walk in tub accompanied by sufficient room heat, heated blankets, warm, dry clothing and hot food and beverages go a long way in keeping an elderly person’s core body temperature at a healthy and safe level. Whenever temperatures dip suddenly in your area (especially if they are below 65 degrees), it is imperative that you check on elderly loved ones to be sure they are dressed appropriately (layers of warm, moisture wicking fabric are best), have adequate heat and access to warm blankets, are remembering to eat and drink (preferably warm food and liquids), and are taking their medications as scheduled. If they are lucky enough to have access to a walk in tub, you will want to make sure they take full advantage of its benefits as well.

If you suspect that an elderly person may be suffering from hypothermia, call 911 immediately and ask for specific instructions on what you should do to help while you wait for emergency personnel to arrive. Only trained health professionals should determine the course of action for a person suffering from hypothermia and their assistance is immediately required in these situations.

Slips, Falls and Cold Weather

Slips, Falls and Cold Weather

"Cold weather leads to snowy, icy or wet surfaces which in turn can cause slips and falls, so precautions need to be taken wherever possible to help the elderly avoid injury during colder months." (Photo courtesy of IstockPhoto.com)

One of the most common causes of injury in elderly people is slipping and falling. Cold weather is often accompanied by snow or ice, which in themselves pose serious hazards outside when older folks or folks with limited mobility try to negotiate icy or snowy walkways, sidewalks or stairs. But cold weather outside can also effect the elderly inside, particularly in the kitchen and bathroom.

Shoes that have melted ice, snow or rain on them are more slippery than those that are dry. Walking into a kitchen or bathroom (which usually have smooth, water-resistant floor surfaces like tile, wood, marble or linoleum) wearing wet shoes can lead to sudden slips and falls.

Limbs that are cold can often be numb, and this may affect a person’s ability to properly sense where the floor is under their feet or to get a firm grip on a railing. This is particularly true of steps and uneven thresholds, and can lead to trips and falls.

Walk In Tubs and Slips and Falls

Walk in bathtubs from Safety Tubs® have built in safety bars that help a person balance and support their weight as they enter and exit a tub. For a cold person who needs to warm up and has partially or fully numb hands and/or feet, this is an extremely helpful safety precaution. Warm full body soaks in a walk in bathtub help a person regain warmth and feeling in their limbs, allowing them to more safely navigate stairs or thresholds.

Other precautions include making sure that an elderly person who is mobile outside does not walk on pavements or stairs or other pathways that are not clear of ice or snow. Ideally, they should always walk with someone else who can be there to lend them support or help them avoid a fall. They should always be dressed appropriately to be sure they stay warm and comfortable and should wear solid, warm footwear that has excellent tread and grip, even in snow.

Once inside, footwear should be wiped and dried before walking fully into the house, or it should be taken off and exchanged for dry, warm, non-slip slippers, shoes or boots. Seats or benches right next to doors that allow people to easily change footwear is an excellent idea, so long as it does not hinder movement or block walkways or pose a tripping hazard.

Sources:

http://www.emaxhealth.com/28/9057.html

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090112201031.htm

http://www.ksla.com/Global/story.asp?S=13804835

http://www.ehow.com/list_7549299_tips-elderly-care-cold.html