|Hypothermia: A Cold Weather Hazard for Seniors
Almost everyone knows about winter dangers such as broken bones from falls
on the ice. But cold weather also can cause an important, less obvious danger
that affects many older Americans. Older adults are especially vulnerable to
hypothermia, which can be deadly if not treated quickly. This drop in body temperature
often is caused by staying in a cold place for too long.
Every year, hypothermia kills about 600 Americans, half of whom are 65 and older,
according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hypothermia occurs
when a person's body temperature drops below normal and stays low for a prolonged
period of time. With advancing age, the body's ability to endure long periods
of exposure to cold is lowered.
Older people also are at risk for hypothermia because their body's response
to cold can be diminished by certain illnesses such as diabetes and some medicines,
including over-the-counter cold remedies. In addition, older people may be less
active and generate less body heat. As a result, they can develop hypothermia
even after exposure to relatively mild cold weather or a small drop in temperature.
The best way to identify someone with hypothermia is to look for confusion or
sleepiness, slowed or slurred speech, shivering or stiffness in the arms and
legs, weak pulse or low blood pressure, or poor control over body movements or
slow reactions. If you suspect that someone is suffering from the cold and you
have a thermometer available, take his or her temperature. If itís 96 degrees
or lower, call 911 for emergency help.
To prevent hypothermia, make sure your home is warm enough. Set your thermostat
to at least 68 to 70 degrees. Even mildly cool homes with temperatures from 60
to 65 degrees can trigger hypothermia in older people. Because heating costs
are high, the U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services has funds to help low-income
families pay their heating bills. For more information, please contact the Low
Income Home Energy Assistance Program (1-866-674-6327) or the Eldercare Locator
The NIA has a free fact sheet on hypothermia. Call 1-800-222-2225 weekdays between
8:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Eastern time to order Hipotermia: El Peligro de las
Bajas Temperaturas. A Spanish-speaking information specialist is available
to respond to calls. This and other Spanish-language publications on healthy
aging also are available on the NIA website at www.nia.nih.gov.
The NIA, part of the National Institutes of Health at the U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services, leads the federal research effort on the conditions
and diseases associated with aging. The Institute is committed to making health
information available to older Hispanic Americans and their families.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's Medical Research
Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of
the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary Federal
agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical
research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common
and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit http://www.nih.gov.