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Tips for older adults on avoiding hypothermia

Frigid weather can pose special risks to older adults.

HeavySnow_30Dec08-300x224Older adults are vulnerable to hypothermia because their bodies’ response to cold can be reduced by medical conditions such as diabetes and by use of some medicines, including over-the-counter cold remedies. Hypothermia can develop in older adults after a short exposure to cold weather or even a small drop in temperature.

Someone may suffer from hypothermia if he or she shows one or more of the following signs when exposed to cold weather: slowed or slurred speech; sleepiness or confusion; shivering or stiffness in the arms and legs; poor control over body movements; slow reactions; or a weak pulse.

The National Institute on Aging has tips to help older people avoid hypothermia:

  • Make sure your home is warm enough. Set the thermostat to at least 68 to 70 degrees. Even mildly cool homes with temperatures from 60 to 65 degrees can lead to hypothermia in older people.
  • Wear long underwear under your clothes, along with socks and slippers, to stay warm at home. Use a blanket or afghan to keep your legs and shoulders warm and wear a hat or cap indoors.
  • Wear a hat, scarf, and gloves or mittens to prevent loss of body heat through your head and hands when you go outside. A hat is important because a large portion of body heat can be lost through your head. Wear several layers of warm 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’re taking may increase your risk for hypothermia.

Because heating costs can be high, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has funds to help low-income families pay heating bills through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Applicants can call the National Energy Assistance Referral project at 866-674-6327, e-mailenergy@ncat.org, or go to the LIHEAP website at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ocs/resource/liheap-brochures.

For more information on hypothermia, see the NIA fact sheet “Hypothermia: A Cold Weather Hazard” and brochure, “Stay Safe in Cold Weather.” A fact sheet in Spanish, “La Hipotermia: un Peligro del Clima Frío,” is also available.

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