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Stay Warm: Your Life Could Depend on It

June 10, 2008 - 7:30am
 
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Stay Warm: Your Life Could Depend on It

Winter is in full force, and with it comes the risk of hypothermia. Hypothermia, defined as below-normal body temperature, can be life-threatening if not promptly treated.

Risk Increases as You Age

According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), older people have an increased risk for hypothermia. As people age, the natural ability to keep warm in the cold may decrease; inactivity, illness, and certain medications make it even harder to stay warm.

Symptoms of hypothermia include:

  • Unusual changes in behavior
  • Confusion
  • Sleepiness
  • Clumsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Shallow breathing

Tips to Help You Stay Warm

Hypothermia is preventable. Tips from the NIA for older adults include:

  • Find out if you are at risk. Ask your doctor if the prescription or over-the-counter medications you take can affect body temperature regulation.
  • Dress warmly in layers of clothing, even when indoors. Hypothermia can occur in bed, so wear warm clothing to bed and use blankets.
  • If you get wet on even a cool fall or spring day, be sure to come inside to a warm room and dry off. Remove wet clothes as soon as you can.
  • Ask friends or neighbors to look in once or twice a day if you live alone. See if your local community has a telephone check-in or personal visit service.
  • Use alcohol moderately, if at all. And avoid alcohol altogether near bedtime. Some people think wrongly that alcohol is helpful in cold weather because it makes many people feel warm and flushed. But that warmth occurs because alcohol causes blood vessels in our hands and face to open up and draw heat from the deep parts of the body to the surface. As a result, alcohol causes us to lose heat and is a very important cause of hypothermia.
  • Eat hot foods and drink hot liquids to raise your body temperature and keep warm.
  • Set the thermostat in your home to at least 68°F–70°F in living or sleeping areas. Ask your doctor if you should set your thermostat higher.
  • Look into fuel-assistance programs and home winterization programs. Your local utility company or area Office on Aging often has an assistance program.

RESOURCES:

National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (N4A)
http://www.n4a.org/

National Institute on Aging
http://www.nih.gov/nia



Last reviewed October 2006 by Jill D. Landis, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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