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Hallucinations require exam

Wednesday, June 19, 2013 by FRED CICETTI Special to The Press in Focus

Q. Are hallucinations reason enough to see a doctor?

Hallucinations can be a symptom of a variety of problems, physical and mental. They can be caused by schizophrenia, dementia, depression, Parkinson's disease, stroke, fever, drugs, and alcohol. You should see a doctor immediately about this symptom.

Visual loss is a common cause of hallucinations, too. About one in 10 with vision problems has hallucinations. It is suspected that this phenomenon is under-reported because victims fear they are losing their minds and don't want their doctors to know.

Complex hallucinations among people with vision loss is called Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS). Charles Bonnet was a Swiss philosopher. In 1760, he described this condition in his blind grandfather.

These hallucinations can strike at any age, but usually affect seniors. The most likely reason that the syndrome affects the elderly is the prevalence of visual problems in this age group. The common conditions leading to CBS are age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataract.

Q. Does it have to be very cold outside to get hypothermia?

You don't need a frosty winter day to suffer from hypothermia. Hypothermia occurs when your body doesn't maintain a normal temperature, which is about 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. When your core temperature drops to 95 degrees, you are suffering from hypothermia, which can be lethal.

You can get hypothermia in an air-conditioned environment. It can strike you if you are soaked in the rain on a cool, windy day, or if you fall into chilly water. Water colder than 70 F can begin to cause hypothermia quickly.

People older than 65 years are especially vulnerable to hypothermia because they tend to suffer from illnesses or take medications that interfere with regulating body temperature. Also, older adults often produce less body heat because of a slower metabolism and less physical activity.

Seniors make up about half of the annual fatalities from hypothermia in the United States.

Low body temperature impairs the brain. Hypothermia is especially dangerous because its victims may not know they're in trouble. Severe hypothermia eventually leads to cardiac and respiratory failure, then death.

Hypothermia comes on gradually. Shivering is a common and obvious sign. Shivering is a natural response that increases muscle cell activity and generates heat.

But, shivering alone does not mean you have hypothermia. Healthcare professionals recommend looking for "umbles," as in: stumbles, mumbles, fumbles and grumbles.

Watch for these specific symptoms: confusion or sleepiness; slowed, slurred speech; shallow breathing; weak pulse or low blood pressure; changes in behavior such as apathy; change in appearance such as pale skin; poor body control or slow reaction times.

Q. Do you have any suggestions for what to do in a fire?

Seniors face the highest risk of perishing in a fire because their senses don't detect danger as easily as they used to, and they don't move quickly to escape during an emergency.

Here are some general fire-emergency recommendations:

If you must exit through smoke, crawl under it (smoke rises).

Cover your mouth and nose with a moist towel or an article of clothing to protect yourself from dangerous fumes.

Always touch closed doors. If they are warm, don't open them. Don't touch doorknobs.

If your clothing is on fire, drop to the floor and roll to extinguish flames.

Avoid elevators. Use stairs or fire escapes.

Order "How To Be A Healthy Geezer," 218-page compilation of columns: healthygeezer.com; "Healthy Geezer" questions: fred@healthy-geezer.com

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© 2013 Fred Cicetti