When I was little, I loved visiting my grandparents in the winter. There was always lots of snow, and my siblings, cousins and I would play outside for hours. Our folks would slap a stocking cap on our heads with a pair of woolen mittens and any available coat. Then off we would go. The cold didn’t even bother me then. We usually came in when our cheeks and fingers were numb, but not before.
Things have changed, to say the least. I now own every thermal article of clothing known to mankind. If it’s cold enough, I have been known to wear gloves to get the mail, and the letter box is on my front porch. Winter weather is no longer the joyful playground of my youth.
My grandmother lived with my aunt and cousin until she was in her 90s. I remember the “thermostat wars” every winter. Grandma was never warm enough and would flip the thermostat up to 85. My aunt would be “roasting to death,” as she would say, and turn the thermostat down to 65 degrees. They went back and forth until spring.
So what happens to transform cold-tolerant kids into shivering adults? Dr. Stephen Belgrave is a medical director at Health Alliance Medicare and a family practice physician. He puts it this way.
“Peripheral vascular disease affects many of our older patients,” he said. “This can slow circulation, and this often affects temperature sensations. It’s important to protect older people from extremes in temperature because of these types of sensory deficits.”
Ah, there you have it. It seems I now qualify as an “older patient.” But the question is how can caregivers help their mature friends and family members?
Here are a few suggestions:
• Be more tolerant when someone complains about being uncomfortable. Even if you think the temperature is cozy, that may not be true for older people.
• Make sure your loved ones have protection from the cold when they go outside. Check and see if they have a cold weather emergency kit in their car. If they don’t have one, it makes a great gift.
• Offer rides (in your preheated car) to the store, appointments and errands during colder months. Removing snow and warming up a car can be a serious hurdle to older adults and people with peripheral vascular disease.
• Finally, find a comfortable, temperate middle ground. Do not engage in “thermostat” wars. I can say from personal experience no one ever wins.
*This piece first ran in 2009.