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Oh-So-Cold Temperatures Plague Older People
Date:1/25/2009

Metabolism and other body changes exacerbate wintertime issues

SUNDAY, Jan. 25 (HealthDay News) -- Hypothermia, frostbite, and falls are among the winter-related dangers faced by older adults, warns the American Geriatrics Society's Foundation for Health in Aging.

They're more susceptible to hypothermia, or dangerously low body temperature, in part because older people have a slower metabolism and produce less body heat than younger people, the society said. In addition, it added, body changes can make it harder for older people to tell when the outside temperature is too low.

To prevent hypothermia, older adults should:

  • Stay indoors when it's very cold and windy outside. Keep indoor temperatures at about 65 degrees F.
  • When going outside, don't stay in the cold or wind for too long. Wear two or three thinner layers of loose-fitting clothing, which provide more warmth than a single layer of thick clothing. Also wear a coat, hat, gloves or mittens, boots and a scarf to cover your nose and mouth and protect your lungs from very cold air.
  • Avoid getting wet, which chills the body quickly.
  • Go indoors if you start shivering, which might be a warning sign of hypothermia.
  • Monitor yourself for warning signs of hypothermia, which include: shivering; cold skin that's pale or ashy; feeling very tired, confused and sleepy; weakness; problems walking; and slowed breathing or heart rate.

Call 911 if you think you or someone else has hypothermia.

Frostbite is also a danger in extreme cold. It usually affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers and toes. People with heart disease and other circulation problems are more likely to get frostbite.

To protect against frostbite, you should:

  • Cover all parts of your body when you go outside.
  • Go indoors if you skin turns red or dark or starts hurting.

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