Seniors Vulnerable to Hypothermia

SUNDAY Feb. 6, 2011 -- In cold weather, older adults are especially vulnerable to hypothermia, and they and their loved ones need to take steps to prevent this potentially deadly condition.

Hypothermia occurs when a person's body temperature drops below normal and remains there for an extended length of time. As people age, their bodies are less able to endure long periods of exposure to cold, according to the U.S. National Institute on Aging (NIA).

In addition, illnesses and certain types of medications can reduce the ability of an elderly person's body to respond to cold. Seniors also tend to be less active and generate less body heat than younger people, which means they may develop hypothermia after exposure to relatively mild cold weather or a small drop in temperature.

Signs of hypothermia include slow or slurred speech, confusion or sleepiness, shivering, stiffness in the arms and legs, weak pulse, slow reactions and poor control of body movements. If a person's temperature is 96 degrees or lower, call 911.

The NIA offers the following hypothermia prevention tips for seniors:

  • When it's cold, wear several layers of loose clothing. The layers will trap warm air between them. Always wear a hat, scarf, gloves or mittens when outside in cold weather.
  • At home, wear long underwear under your clothes, along with socks and slippers. Use a blanket or afghan to keep legs and shoulders warm, and wear a hat or cap.
  • Set your home's thermostat to at least 68 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Even indoor temperatures of 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit can lead to hypothermia in older people.
  • Ask your doctor if any prescription or over-the-counter medications you are taking may increase the risk of hypothermia.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about hypothermia.

Posted: February 2011


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