DHHS, NIH News  
National Institute on Aging

Thursday, January 23, 2003
Jeannine Mjoseth
(301) 496-1752

Is it Hypothermia? Look for the “Umbles” — Stumbles, Mumbles, Fumbles, and Grumbles

Older people who lower the thermostat to cut heating bills raise their risk of hypothermia, a potentially fatal condition in which the body’s temperature drops for a prolonged period. Hypothermia is a particular problem for older people who lack proper nutrition, take certain medications, drink alcohol, and who have conditions such as arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, and Parkinson’s disease.

If you suspect someone may have hypothermia (hi-po-ther-mee-uh), look for the “umbles”— stumbles, mumbles, fumbles, and grumbles — these show that the cold is affecting how well a person’s muscles and nerves work. Take their temperature with a thermometer that has been shaken to its lowest point. If their temperature doesn’t rise above 96°, call for emergency help. While you are waiting, keep the person warm and dry. Wrap the person in blankets, towels, coats — whatever is handy. An older person’s skin may be easily damaged so be gentle if you rub their arms and legs to generate warmth.

Call 1-800-222-2225 to order the National Institute on Aging’s (NIA) free AgePage on avoiding hypothermia. Call 1-866-674-6327, the National Energy Assistance Referral (NEAR) if you need help paying your heating bills. NEAR operators will give callers the number of their state Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) office and local agency referrals for help paying their heating bills.

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. Visit the NIA web site (www.nia.nih.gov) for more information.

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