Older adults can lose body heat fast—faster than when they were young. A big chill can turn into a dangerous problem before an older person even knows what’s happening. Doctors call this serious problem hypothermia (hi-po-ther-mee-uh).
Hypothermia is what happens when your body temperature gets very low. For an older person, a body temperature colder than 95 degrees 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. You can take steps to lower your chance of getting hypothermia.
Tips for keeping warm inside:
- Set your heat at 68 degrees or higher. To save on heating bills, close off rooms you are not using.
- To keep warm at home, wear long johns under your clothes. Throw a blanket over your legs. Wear socks and slippers.
- When you go to sleep, wear long johns under your pajamas, and use extra covers. Wear a cap or hat.
- Ask family or friends to check on you during cold weather.
Bundle up on windy, cool days
A high 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.
Tips for bundling up:
- 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.
Warning signs of hypothermia
Early signs of hypothermia:
- cold feet and hands
- puffy or swollen face
- pale skin
- shivering (in some cases the person with hypothermia does not shiver)
- slower than normal speech or slurring words
- acting sleepy
- being angry or confused
- moving slowly, trouble walking, or being clumsy
- stiff and jerky arm or leg movements
- slow heartbeat
- slow, shallow breathing
- blacking out or losing consciousness
Later signs of hypothermia:
Call 911 right away if you think someone has warning signs of hypothermia.
Tips for what to do after you call 911
- Wrap the person in a warm blanket.
- Do not rub the person’s legs or arms.
- Do not try to warm the person in a bath.
- Do not use a heating pad.