If you are like most people, you feel cold every now and then during the winter. What you may not know is that just being really cold can make you very sick.
Older adults can lose body heat fast—faster than when they were young. Changes in your body that come with aging can make it harder for you to be aware of getting cold. A big chill can turn into a dangerous problem before an older person even knows what’s happening. Doctors call this serious problem hypothermia.
What Is Hypothermia?
Hypothermia is what happens when your body temperature gets very low. For an older person, a body temperature colder than 95°F can cause many health problems, such as a heart attack, kidney problems, liver damage, or worse.
Being outside in the cold, or even being in a very cold house, can lead to hypothermia. Try to stay away from cold places, and pay attention to how cold it is where you are. You can take steps to lower your chance of getting hypothermia.
Living in a cold house, apartment, or other building can cause hypothermia. In fact, hypothermia can happen to someone in a nursing home or group facility if the rooms are not kept warm enough. If someone you know is in a group facility, pay attention to the inside temperature and to whether that person is dressed warmly enough.
People who are sick may have special problems keeping warm. Do not let it get too cold inside and dress warmly. Even if you keep your temperature between 60 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit, your home or apartment may not be warm enough to keep you safe. This is a special problem if you live alone because there is no one else to feel the chilliness of the house or notice if you are having symptoms of hypothermia.
Here are some tips for keeping warm while you’re inside:
Set your heat at 68°F or higher. To save on heating bills, close off rooms you are not using. Close the vents and shut the doors in these rooms, and keep the basement door closed. Place a rolled towel in front of all doors to keep out drafts.
Make sure your house isn’t losing heat through windows. Keep your blinds and curtains closed. If you have gaps around the windows, try using weather stripping or caulk to keep the cold air out.
Dress warmly on cold days even if you are staying in the house. Throw a blanket over your legs. Wear socks and slippers.
When you go to sleep, wear long underwear under your pajamas, and use extra covers. Wear a cap or hat.
Make sure you eat enough food to keep up your weight. If you don’t eat well, you might have less fat under your skin. Body fat helps you to stay warm.
Drink alcohol moderately, if at all. Alcoholic drinks can make you lose body heat.
Ask family or friends to check on you during cold weather. If a power outage leaves you without heat, try to stay with a relative or friend.
You may be tempted to warm your room with a space heater. But, some space heaters are fire hazards, and others can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has information on the use of space heaters. Read the following for more information: Reducing Fire Hazards for Portable Electric Heaters and Seven Highly Effective Portable Heater Safety Habits.
Bundle Up on Windy, Cold Days
A heavy wind can quickly lower your body temperature. Check the weather forecast for windy and cold days. On those days, try to stay inside or in a warm place. If you have to go out, wear warm clothes, and don’t stay out in the cold and wind for a long time.
Here are some other tips:
Dress for the weather if you have to go out on chilly, cold, or damp days.
Wear loose layers of clothing. The air between the layers helps to keep you warm.
Put on a hat and scarf. You lose a lot of body heat when your head and neck are uncovered.
Wear a waterproof coat or jacket if it’s snowy.
Illness, Medicines, and Cold Weather
Some illnesses may make it harder for your body to stay warm. Diabetes, thyroid problems, Parkinson’s disease, memory loss, and arthritis are problems that can make it harder for older adults to stay warm. Talk with your doctor about your health problems and how to prevent hypothermia.
Ask your doctor if the medicines you take may affect body heat. Always talk with your doctor before you stop taking any medication.
Talk to your doctor about any health problems and medicines that can make hypothermia a special problem for you. Your doctor can help you find ways to prevent hypothermia. Ask about safe ways to stay active even when it’s cold outside.