Boiler breakdowns and the elderly

Boiler breakdowns and the elderly

Keep an eye on elderly neighbours and learn to spot the warning signs of hypothermia

Image source: Gas Safety Week 2019

It is harder to get an engineer out to fix a boiler breakdown in the winter, because this is the peak time for such incidents.

When there is no heating in the house, warmth can escape very quickly, and, depending on the type and age of the house the most vulnerable points of exit are the walls and roof, also windows and doors if they are not properly sealed.

The older the house, the quicker the heat loss is likely to be, but it also depends on the outside temperature and the strength of the wind.

Small children and the elderly can be particularly vulnerable when a house has no heating even if only for a couple of days.

They are more at risk of hypothermia, when the body temperature gets very low.

As we age, our bodies’ metabolic rate can slow down and we can become more sensitive to the cold. Aging bodies are not capable of generating enough heat to help maintain the normal temperature of 98.6 degree.

For an older person, a body temperature of 95°F or lower can cause many health problems, such as a heart attack, kidney problems, liver damage, or worse.

The factors that can contribute to sensitivity to the cold include:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Poor metabolic rate
  • Loss of elasticity of the blood vessels
  • Thinning of the fat layer beneath the skin. This is responsible for fat conservation. Which eventually keeps the body at the right temperature
  • Exposure to cold water
  • Side effects of certain medications such as beta blockers, calcium channel blockers
  • Physical problems
  • Certain medical conditions such as thyroid disease, high cholesterol to name a few

It is more dangerous if the elderly person has medical conditions such as anaemia, diabetes, or thyroid complications.

Keep an eye on elderly neighbours and learn to spot the warning signs of hypothermia

Among the warning signs are shivering even when the room temperatures are not too low, Skin turning pale, slow breathing rate, memory loss, drowsiness and confusion, slurred speech and loss of co-ordination.

The most vulnerable areas in the human body to heat loss are the head and the pulse points (wrists and ankles) so hats and gloves may be needed, even indoors.

You can help to prevent some of this while waiting for repairs to a heater by ensuring a supply of warm drinks, perhaps a flask of soup, and ensuring they are dressed warmly, preferably in layers which trap warm air between them, and perhaps giving them a blanket or two. Make sure they are eating regularly and encourage them to move around if at all possible..

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