Winter Weather, Older Adults and Hypothermia

Older gentlemen outside during sunset in the winter, HypothermiaWhen it comes to what the weather will be like this winter, the predictions are polar opposites.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac tells us to have our snow shovels ready. The Almanac predicts above normal snowfall, especially in the Midwest and the northeast. Accompanying the snowfall will be normal to colder than normal temperatures.

In contrast, the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration predicts a much warmer and drier winter, with above average temperatures across much of the United States. There will be bouts of cold, but most likely they will be less frequent and last for shorter periods of time than normal.

AccuWeather notes the possibility of a polar vortex driving southward across the central U.S. in February, causing temperatures to plummet.

The cold weather can have a major impact on older adults. The cold temperatures can cause hypothermia and older adults are especially vulnerable. According to the National Institute on Aging, older adults have a diminished ability to endure long periods of exposure to cold temperatures. They often make less body heat because their metabolisms are slower and because they tend to be less physically active. Some medications, including over-the-counter cold remedies, and certain diseases such as diabetes, thyroid problems, Parkinson’s disease, and arthritis can make it harder for your body to stay warm.

Some older adults can even develop hypothermia in relatively mild cold weather or after a small drop in temperature.

With hypothermia, your body temperature drops to dangerously low levels. Among older adults, significant health problems can occur when body temperature drops below 95 degrees. Hypothermia can cause a heart attack, problems with your kidneys, and damage to your liver. It can cost you your life.

Based on information from the National Institute on Aging and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, here are some things you can do:

10 Steps You Can Take

  1. Set the temperature in your home or apartment to at least 68 degrees. Be sure to check the temperature often. If you are concerned about being able to afford the cost of heating your home or apartment, you may be able to get help paying your heating bill through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance program.
  2. Eat well-balanced meals. Do not drink alcoholic or caffeinated beverages as they cause your body to lose heat more rapidly.
  3. Dress in layers as the air between the layers helps keep you warm. Wear wool, silk, or polypropylene inner layers because these fabrics hold heat in better than cotton. Wear a hat or cap.
  4. Wear long underwear under your clothes. Throw a blanket over your legs. Wear socks and slippers.
  5. Use extra covers and wear a cap to bed.
  6. Stay inside when it is very windy outside. A high wind can quickly lower your body temperature.
  7. Find ways to stay active.
  8. Talk to your doctor about any health problems and medicines that can make hypothermia a special problem for you.
  9. Ask relatives, friends, and neighbors to check on you frequently, especially when temperatures are extremely cold.
  10. Know the signs of hypothermia and watch for them. Here are the signs . . .

Signs of Hypothermia

Pale skin, cold feet and hands.

Puffy or swollen face.


Lower volume of speech; slurring words.

Acting sleepy.

Anger or confusion.

Trouble walking or moving.


Stiff or jerky arm or leg movements.

Slow, irregular heartbeat.

Slow, shallow breathing.

Blacking out; loss of consciousness.

If you think someone has the signs of hypothermia, call 911 and get medical attention immediately.

Until medical help arrives, get the person into a warm room or shelter, if possible. Wrap the person in a blanket. Do not rub the person’s arm or legs; do not use a heating pad; and do not try to warm the person in a bath.


Gardant Management Solutions has 20+ years of industry-acclaimed operational history in developing, managing and consulting for senior living, assisted living and memory care communities.