News Release

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

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 it’s 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 (1-800-677-1116).

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

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.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): 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. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

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