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It’s cold outside!

Take steps to prevent hypothermia

Photo: kali9/iStockphoto

Who’s at risk?

The elderly, very young children, and people who are malnourished or fatigued are at higher risk of developing hypothermia, according to the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami.

“Children and the elderly are certainly at higher risk,” Zimmer said. “And with the elderly comes lower metabolic rates, medications that lower your body’s ability to regulate temperature and just general overall conditioning put them at higher risk.”

How can you make sure kids stay warm and safe? The Mayo Clinic recommends the following:

  • Dress infants and young children in one more layer than an adult would wear in the same conditions.
  • Bring children indoors if they start to shiver.
  • Make children take frequent breaks and warm up inside when they’re playing in cold temperatures.
  • Don’t put babies to sleep in a cold room.

Other people at risk are those with chronic illnesses or heart or blood flow problems, people taking certain prescription medicines (including antidepressants and narcotic painkillers) and anyone under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

“Prevention-wise, it’s really about limiting exposure time, and so appropriate layering and staying away from extreme temperatures for prolonged periods of time are of the most importance,” Zimmer said.

Check on the elderly

Elderly people face another risk: a condition called chronic hypothermia, Cichon said. This occurs when the body temperature drops over time after prolonged exposure to colder indoor temperatures. Side effects include impaired cognitive function and coordination, which may lead to falls and injuries. Cichon urges people to regularly check in with older relatives and neighbors.

“Make sure that they have adequate heat in the house,” he said. “Make sure that they have adequate food. Make sure that they’re safe in the sense that if they don’t have heat, they’re not using space heaters that are close to curtains or to blankets or to things that can catch fire if they’re overheated or tipped over, or whatever the case might be.”

The Mayo Clinic wants you to remember the acronym COLD:

COVER: Wear a hat and mittens.
OVEREXERTION: Avoid activities that cause you to excessively sweat. The combination of wet clothing and cold weather can make you lose body heat more quickly.
LAYERS: Wear loose-fitting, layered, lightweight clothing. Outer clothing made of tightly woven, water-repellent material is optimal for wind protection. Wool, silk or polypropylene inner layers hold body heat better than cotton.
DRY: Stay as dry as possible and remove wet clothing as soon as you can. Try to keep your hands and feet dry, as snow can easily get into mittens and boots.

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