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Hypothermia: A cold weather hazard

With shorter days and dropping temperatures, it is important to keep in mind that older adults are particularly vulnerable to the health risks that can come with cold weather. Hypothermia—a dangerous drop in core body temperature—can occur when it is too cold outside or the body is unable to produce the heat it needs to function. Older adults and those with chronic medical conditions are especially susceptible to hypothermia, even after relatively short exposure to cold weather or a small drop in body temperature. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has some tips to avoid some of the dangers.

Warning signs of hypothermia include: slowed or slurred speech; sleepiness or confusion; shivering or stiffness in the arms and legs; poor control over body movements; slow reactions, a weak pulse, or a core body temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.

Here are a few tips to help older people prevent hypothermia:

    • Make sure your home is warm enough. Some experts suggest that, for older people, the temperature be set to at least 68 degrees. (Read more below about help in keeping your house warm.)


    • 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.


    • Check with your doctor to see if any prescription or over-the-counter medications you are taking may increase your risk for 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. Wear several layers of loose clothing to help trap warm air between the layers.


    • If possible, let others know when you’re planning to spend time outdoors and carry a fully charged cellphone.


Energy costs may discourage older people from keeping their houses warm enough in the winter. To help, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has funds to help low-income homeowners and renters meet home heating needs through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

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