Hypothermia: A Cold Weather Hazard for Seniors

Armen Hareyan's picture


Almost everyone knows about winter dangers such as broken bones from falls on the ice. But cold weather also can cause an important, less obvious danger that affects many older Americans. Older adults are especially vulnerable to hypothermia, which can be deadly if not treated quickly. This drop in body temperature often is caused by staying in a cold place for too long.


Every year, hypothermia kills about 600 Americans, half of whom are 65 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hypothermia occurs when a person's body temperature drops below normal and stays low for a prolonged period of time. With advancing age, the body's ability to endure long periods of exposure to cold is lowered.

Older people also are at risk for hypothermia because their body's response to cold can be diminished by certain illnesses such as diabetes and some medicines, including over-the-counter cold remedies. In addition, older people may be less active and generate less body heat. As a result, they can develop hypothermia even after exposure to relatively mild cold weather or a small drop in temperature.

The best way to identify someone with hypothermia is to look for confusion or sleepiness, slowed or slurred speech, shivering or stiffness in the arms and legs, weak pulse or low blood pressure, or poor control over body movements or slow reactions. If you suspect that someone is suffering from the cold and you have a thermometer available, take his or her temperature. If it