Keeping Warm When It's Cold Outside
When the temperatures drop, home heating bills go up. There is a temptation to set the thermostat lower to save money. This can be a dangerous decision. When people are exposed to cold temperatures for long periods, hypothermia can result.
What is Hypothermia?
Hypothermia is a drop in internal body temperature (generally below 95° F) that occurs when exposure to cold causes a person’s body to lose heat faster than it can be replaced. Hypothermia is a serious medical condition and a leading cause of death among older people.
Why are older adults more vulnerable?
- It is more difficult for an older person’s body to feel cold or to respond and warm itself up.
- Older people usually lose body fat which holds the heat and protects them from the cold.
- Illnesses and medications can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate its temperature.
Be alert to this risk if you or someone you know...
- Has insufficient heat at home due to sub-standard housing conditions, poor insulation, lack of money to pay for fuel, etc.
- Lives alone and may be exposed to cold without others noticing.
- Is physically inactive due to illness or disability.
- Eats poorly - no hot, balanced meals for good nutrition.
- Takes medication that reduces the body’s ability to protect itself against cold.
- Reacts abnormally to cold - for example, does not shiver when cold. (Shivering is the body’s way of trying to stay warm.)
- Acts like a “different person.” - This could be the result of not being warm enough.
Signs of hypotherma
- Slurred speech
- Pale, cool, and sometimes blotchy skin
- Weakness and fatigue
- Trembling on one side of the body
- Mild confusion
- Difficulty walking or performing certain tasks, such as writing, or tying shoes
What to do and NOT do if you notice any of these signs and the body temperature is below 95° F
- DO NOT rub the skin or apply direct heat such as a heating pad or hot water bottle. This could cause more damage.
- It is important to warm him/her up with blankets in a warm room and call a doctor immediately.
- If s/he has an irregular heartbeat, rigid muscles, or experiences unconsciousness, it is important to CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY, or contact your local emergency medical service.
Tips for avoiding hypotherma
- Wear layers of extra clothing outside and sweaters inside. Some people can develop hypothermia in temperature as high as 65° F.
- Wear a hat. Much of our body heat escapes through the top of the head.
- Wear warm, waterproof shoes and warm socks. Wet feet increase the chance of hypothermia.
- Eat a healthful balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables and a hot meal. A balanced diet increases the body’s ability to resist the elements.
- Exercise often. It enhances the functioning of the body’s internal thermostat.
- Avoid the use of alcoholic beverages. Drinking alcohol inhibits one’s ability to feel the cold.
- Keep in touch with others. Ask: How are you keeping warm? Do you have layers of clothing on? Do you have enough blankets? Have you been shivering? Have you eaten?
If a friend or relative is unavailable to check on an isolated older adult regularly, a call to the DHS Area Agency on Aging at 412-350-5460 can enroll that adult in a Telephone Reassurance Program.
Precautions for Severe Winter Weather
Provides suggestions of how to be prepared and stay safe during severe weather. By the Allegheny County Health Department
Staying Warm and Safe this Winter
Provides an overview of heating assistance programs and hypothermia
Winter Storm Preparedness Tips
Suggestions about how individuals can plan ahead so their safety is not at risk during severe weather
Help for paying home heating utility bills