The cold truth about hypothermia is that Americans aged 65 years and
older face this danger every winter. Older adults are especially
vulnerable to hypothermia because their body's response to cold can be
diminished by underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, some
medicines including over-the-counter cold remedies, and aging itself. As
a result, hypothermia can develop in older adults after even relatively
mild exposure to cold weather or a small drop in temperature.
These tips from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) at the National
Institutes of Health will help older people avoid this dangerous
cold-weather condition. When the temperature gets too cold or the body's
heat production decreases, hypothermia occurs. Hypothermia is defined
as having a core body temperature below 95 degrees.
Someone suffering from hypothermia may show one or more of the
following signs: slowed or slurred speech, sleepiness or confusion,
shivering or stiffness in the arms and legs, poor control over body
movements or slow reactions, or a weak pulse. If you suspect
hypothermia, or if you observe these symptoms, call 911.
Here are a few tips to help older people avoid hypothermia:
When going outside in the cold, it is important
to wear a hat, scarf, and gloves or mittens to prevent loss of body heat
through your head and hands. Also consider letting someone know you’re
going outdoors and carry a fully charged cellphone. A hat is
particularly important because a large portion of body heat can be lost
through the head. Wear several layers of loose clothing to help trap
warm air between the layers.
Check with your doctor to see if any prescription or
over-the-counter medications you are taking may increase your risk for
Make sure your home is warm enough. Some experts suggest that, for older people, the temperature be set to at least 68 degrees.
To stay warm at home, wear long underwear under your clothes, along
with socks and slippers. Use a blanket or afghan to keep your legs and
shoulders warm and wear a hat or cap indoors.