Hypothermia a real risk for seniors

seniorCold weather can be particularly dangerous for older adults, causing a life-threatening drop in body temperature called hypothermia. So until winter gives way to spring, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) is urging that seniors take extra steps to stay warm.

Hypothermia sets in when the internal body temperature drops to 95 degrees or lower. Older adults are at risk because age, some medicines and chronic medical conditions like diabetes can affect the body’s ability to warm itself.

Spending even a short time outdoors—or setting a thermostat a few degrees too low indoors—can cause hypothermia in older adults, according to the NIA.

Signs and symptoms of hypothermia can include:

  • Cold hands and feet
  • A puffy or swollen face
  • Slowed or slurring speech
  • Sleepiness
  • Stiff and jerky movements in the arms or legs
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Clumsiness
  • Loss of consciousness

To prevent hypothermia, the NIA recommends that older people dress warmly when heading out the door. Gloves and hats are particularly important to prevent the loss of body heat.

Seniors also should keep their thermostats set to at least 68 degrees.

People who worry about paying their heating bills may be able to get help through the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

To find out if you qualify for LIHEAP, call the National Energy Assistance Referral project at 866-674-6327 or send an email to energy@ncat.org.

You also can contact the LIHEAP office in your state. Find that information by using the map here.

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