A big chill can turn into a dangerous problem before an older person even knows what’s happening. Aging can make it harder for seniors to be aware that they are becoming seriously cold, and older bodies lose heat faster, sometimes leading to hypothermia.
Dangers of Hypothermia
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.
Being outside in the cold – or even being in a very cold house – can lead to hypothermia. It’s not only important to avoid being in cold places for extended periods, but also to pay close attention to the temperature around you.
Sometimes it is difficult to tell if someone – or even you, yourself – has hypothermia. People can become confused when their body temperature gets very low. Talk to your family and friends about the warning signs so you can look out for each other.
Early signs of hypothermia:
- Cold feet and hands
- Puffy or swollen face
- Pale skin
- Shivering (in some cases the person with hypothermia does not shiver)
- Slower than normal speech or slurring words
- Acting sleepy
- Being angry or confused
Later signs of hypothermia:
- Moving slowly, trouble walking, or being clumsy
- Stiff and jerky arm or leg movements
- Slow heartbeat
- Slow, shallow breathing
- Blacking out or losing consciousness
Call 9-1-1 right away if you think someone has warning signs of hypothermia and then:
- Try to move the person to a warmer place.
- Wrap the person in a warm blanket, towels, or coats—whatever is handy. Even your own body warmth will help. Lie close, but be gentle.
- Give the person something warm to drink, but avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine, such as regular coffee.
- Do not rub the person’s legs or arms.
- Do not try to warm the person in a bath.
- Do not use a heating pad.
Keep Warm Inside
- Set your heat to at least 68–70°F. To save on heating bills, close off rooms you are not using. Close the vents and shut the doors in these rooms, and keep the basement door closed. Place a rolled towel in front of all doors to keep out drafts.
- Make sure your house isn’t losing heat through windows. Keep your blinds and curtains closed. If you have gaps around the windows, try using weather stripping or caulk to keep the cold air out.
- Dress warmly on cold days even if you are staying in the house. Throw a blanket over your legs. Wear socks and slippers.
- When you go to sleep, wear long underwear under your pajamas, and use extra covers. Wear a cap or hat.
- Make sure you eat enough food to keep up your weight. If you don’t eat well, you might have less fat under your skin. Body fat helps you to stay warm.
- Drink alcohol moderately, if at all. Alcoholic drinks can make you lose body heat.
- Ask family or friends to check on you during cold weather. If a power outage leaves you without heat, try to stay with a relative or friend.
- Check the weather forecast for windy and cold days.
- Don’t stay out in the cold and wind for a long time.
- Wear loose layers of clothing. The air between the layers helps to keep you warm.
- Remember to put on a hat and scarf!
- Wear a waterproof coat or jacket if it’s snowy.
- Change your clothes right away if they get damp or wet.
Health Conditions and Medications
Some illnesses may make it harder for your body to stay warm.
- Thyroid problems can make it hard to maintain a normal body temperature.
- Diabetes can keep blood from flowing normally to provide warmth.
- Parkinson’s disease and arthritis can make it hard to put on more clothes, use a blanket, or get out of the cold.
- Memory loss can cause a person to go outside without the right clothing.
Taking some medicines and not being active also can affect body heat. These include medicines you get from your doctor and those you buy over-the-counter, such as some cold medicines. Ask your doctor if the medicines you take may affect body heat. Always talk with your doctor before you stop taking any medication.
Talk to Your Doctor
- Ask your doctor about signs of hypothermia.
- Talk to your doctor about any health problems and medicines that can make hypothermia a special problem for you. Your doctor can help you find ways to prevent hypothermia.
- Ask about safe ways to stay active even when it’s cold outside.
Cold Weather Safety Resources
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program
National Energy Assistance Referral Hotline (NEAR)
National Association of Area Agencies on Aging
Consumer Product Safety Commission
Read the full article here for more details.