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J Am Geriatr Soc. 1991 Sep;39(9):853-7.

Fever response in elderly nursing home residents: are the older truly colder?

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  • 1Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center, VA Medical Center West Los Angeles, CA.



To test the hypothesis that many nursing home residents with an apparently blunted fever response (maximum temperature less than 101 degrees F) may actually have a significant change in temperature (delta T greater than or equal to 2.4 degrees F) which is not recognized because of a low baseline temperature.


Retrospective chart review for cases of infection that met specific criteria and for chart-recorded baseline and infection temperatures. Chart-recorded baseline temperatures were prospectively compared with re-measurement of morning temperatures.


Nursing Home Care Unit of the VAMC West Los Angeles.


Random review of 40 residents' charts resulted in the detection of 69 infections among 26 residents over a 20-month period. Fifty randomly selected residents prospectively underwent comparison of chart-determined and actual re-measurement of baseline temperatures.


In 50 randomly selected residents, the mean oral baseline temperature of 97.4 +/- 0.2 (degrees F +/- SEM) closely approximated the mean nurse-recorded measures in the charts (97.6 +/- 0.1). Chart review detected 69 infections among 26 residents, with 53 episodes having a temperature recorded during the infection. The mean maximum temperature (Tmax) during an infection was 101.3 +/- 0.3 (degrees F +/- SEM) but 47% (25/53) of the episodes had a "blunted" fever response (Tmax less than 101 degrees F). Of the 25 "blunted" fevers (Tmax less than 101 degrees F), about one-fourth demonstrated an adequate change in temperature from baseline (delta T greater than or equal to 2.4 degrees F) but failed to reach 101 degrees F because of a low baseline. Most infections (89%) had a Tmax greater than 99 degrees F.


Establishing a nursing home patient's basal temperature and monitoring for changes in temperature (delta T greater than 2.4 degrees F) and/or lowering the threshold for recognition of fevers (to 99 degrees or 100 degrees F) in nursing home residents with a change in function should assist in early recognition of infections.

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