Most Americans aged 65 years and older aren’t going to face the dangers of hypothermia in their cars during a snowstorm. However, they can be 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. As a result, hypothermia can develop in older adults after even relatively mild exposure to cold weather or a small drop in temperature.
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.
To help older people avoid hypothermia, the National Institute on Aging offers the following tips:
- When going outside in the cold, 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 cell phone. A hat is 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’re taking may increase your risk for hypothermia.
- Make sure your home is warm enough. For older people, the temperature should 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.
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-mail [email protected], or go to the LIHEAP website http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ocs/resource/liheap-brochures.
These publications are available on the NIA website or by calling NIA’s at 800-222-2225.