Keeping Older Adults Safe in the Cold Days of Winter
While the snowy scene above can be so inviting to many, it is not to all. As we grow older, the cold of winter can affect us more severely. Older adults can lose body heat fast – faster than when they were young. A chill can turn into a dangerous problem before an older person even knows what’s happening. This is what is known as hypothermia.
Hypothermia occurs 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. But steps can be taken to lower your chance, or that of an older adult, of getting hypothermia.
The National Institute on Aging has a very thorough article on keeping safe in the winter cold. Included are examples of older adults who have learned to live safely in cold climates, as well as many recommendations for keeping an older adult safe in the cold of winter. Among the suggestions are:
- Set the heat at 68 degrees or higher.
- Dress warmly on cold days even if staying in the house.
- Wear loose layers when going outside on chilly days.
- Wear a hat, scarf, and gloves.
- Don’t stay out in the cold and wind for a long time.
- Talk to a doctor about health problems that may make it harder to keep warm.
- Find safe ways to stay active even when it’s cold outside.
- Ask a neighbor or friend to check on you if you live alone.
If you think someone has hypothermia, call 911 right away. Cover him or her with a blanket. Do not rub his or her legs or arms.
This article was updated in December 2017.