Cold Weather Hazard

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Hypothermia

Cold weather is very risky for older people.  That can be deadly if not treated quickly. This drop in body temperature, often caused by staying in a cool place for too long is called hypothermia (hi-po-ther-mee-uh).

A body temperature below 96F may seem like just a couple of degrees below the body's normal temperature of 98.6 F. It can be dangerous. It may cause an irregular heartbeat leading to heart problems and death.

What To Look For

When you think about being cold, you probably think of shivering. That is one thing the body does when it gets cold. This warms the body.

Muscles shiver in response to messages sent by the nerves.

Shivering increases muscle cell activity that, in turn, makes heat. But, shivering alone does not mean hypothermia.

So, how can you tell if someone has hypothermia? It can be tricky because some older people may not want to complain.

They may not even be aware of how cold it is. 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.

Watch for:

  • Confusion or sleepiness

  • Slowed, slurred speech, or shallow breathing

  • Weak pulse or low blood pressure

  • A change in behavior during cold weather or a change in the way they look

  • A lot of shivering or no shivering; stiffness in the arms or legs

  • Chilly rooms or other signs that they have been in a cold place

  • Poor control over body movements or slow reactions

What Should I Do?

If you think someone could have hypothermia, take his or her temperature with a thermometer.

The only way to tell for sure that someone has hypothermia is to use a special thermometer that can read very low body temperatures.

The person must be seen by a doctor and the doctors will warm the person's body from inside out. For example, they may give the person warm fluids directly into a vein using an I.V.

Whether the person gets better depends on how long he or she was exposed to the cold and his or her general health.

Wrap the person in blankets, towels, coats - whatever is handy.  You may be tempted to rub the person's arms and legs. This can make the problem worse. The skin of an older person may be thinner and more easily torn than the skin of someone younger.

What Things Put Me At Risk?

Some things that put any older person at risk for hypothermia and some things you can do to avoid it include:

  • Changes in your body that come with aging can make it harder to feel when you are getting cold. It may be harder for your body to warm itself.

  • If you don't eat well, you might have less fat under your skin. FAT can protect your body. It keeps heat in your body. Make sure you are eating enough food to keep up your weight.

  • Some illnesses may make it harder for your body to stay warm. These include:

    • Disorders of the body's hormone system such as low thyroid (hypothyroidism)

    • Any condition that interferes with the normal flow of blood such as diabetes

    • Some skin problems such as psoriasis that allow your body to lose more heat than normal.

  • Other health problems might keep you from moving to a warmer place or putting on more clothes or a blanket. For example:

    • Severe arthritis, Parkinson's disease, or other illnesses that make it harder to move around

    • Stroke or other illnesses that can leave you paralyzed and make clear thinking more difficult

    • Memory disorders or dementia

  • A fall or other injury

  • Some medicines often used by older people also increase the risk of accidental hypothermia. These include drugs used to treat anxiety, depression, or nausea. Some over-the-counter cold remedies can also cause problems.

  • Alcoholic drinks can also make you lose body heat faster. Use alcohol moderately, if at all.

  • Clothing can make you colder or help keep you warm. Tight clothing can keep your blood from flowing freely. This can lead to loss of body heat. Wear several layers of loose clothing when it is cold. The layers will trap warm air between them.

Staying Warm Inside and Out

Maybe you already knew that your health, your age, what you eat or drink, even your clothes can make it hard for you to stay warm enough wherever you are. What you might not realize is that people can also get cold enough inside a building to get very sick.

In fact, hypothermia can even happen to someone in a nursing home or group facility if the rooms are not kept warm enough. People living there who are already sick may have special problems keeping warm.

Don't forget that you need to stay warm when it's cold outside.  You lose more body heat on a windy day than a calm day.


The above opinionated views and information serves to educated and informed consumer .  The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. .It should not replaced professional advise and consultation.  A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions 

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