Stay Warm: Your Life Could Depend on It

With winter comes the risk of hypothermia. Hypothermia is below-normal body temperature. It can be life-threatening if not treated right away.

Risk Increases as You Age

Older adults have an increased risk for hypothermia. As people age, it can be harder to keep warm in the cold. Inactivity, illness, and certain medicines make it even harder to stay warm. Learn the signs of hypothermia. The sooner treatment starts, the better the outcome.

Early signs of hypothermia include:

  • Shivering
  • Paleness
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Slow, slurred speech
  • Sleepiness
  • Confusion or anger
  • Clumsiness

Late signs of hypothermia may include:

  • Unusual changes in behavior
  • Problems walking
  • Slow movement
  • Shallow breathing
  • Loss of consciousness

If you think a loved one may have hypothermia, call for medical help right away.

Tips to Help Stay Warm

To help prevent hypothermia:

  • Find out if you are at risk. Ask your doctor if any of your medicines could affect how your body regulates temperature.
  • Dress warmly in layers of clothing. Do this even when indoors. Hypothermia can happen in bed. Wear warm clothing to bed and use blankets.
  • Keep warm outside in cold weather. Wear gloves or mittens and a hat.
  • If you get wet on a cool day, go inside to warm up and dry off. Remove wet clothes as soon as you can.
  • Ask friends or neighbors to visit you once or twice a day if you live alone. See if your local community has a check-in or visiting service.
  • Limit or do not use alcohol. Do not drink alcohol near bedtime. Alcohol is not helpful in cold weather, even if it makes people feel warm. Alcohol opens blood vessels in the hands and face but takes heat from deeper parts of the body. As a result, alcohol causes us to lose heat. It is an important cause of hypothermia.
  • Eat hot foods and drink hot liquids. This may raise your body temperature and help you keep warm.
  • Set the thermostat in your home to at least 68°F to 70°F (20°C-21.1°C). Do this in living or sleeping areas. Ask your doctor if you should set your thermostat higher.
  • Look into fuel-assistance programs. There are also programs to help protect your home from the cold. Call your local utility company or other agencies with an assistance program.
RESOURCES:

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

US Aging
https://www.usaging.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Alberta Health
http://www.health.alberta.ca

Health Canada
http://www.canada.ca

REFERENCES:

Accidental hypothermia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/accidental-hypothermia. Accessed October 18, 2021.

Cold weather safety for older adults National Institute on Aging website. Available at: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/cold-weather-safety-older-adults. Accessed October 18, 2021.

Hypothermia. Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Available at: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/hypothermia. Accessed October 18, 2021.

Last reviewed October 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board   Last Updated: 10/18/2021