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Older People Should Take Care In Cold Weather

Appalachian Agency for Senior Citizens (AASC) urges older people to be aware of how cold temperatures impact them. Older people in poorly heated homes sometimes suffer hypothermia.

Every year, hypothermia kills as many as 600 Americans. At least half of those are 65 or older, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hypothermia occurs when a person's normal body temperature drops from 98.6 degrees to 95 degrees. Older people may be at greater risk for this condition because their body's response to cold may be diminished by illnesses like arthritis or medications, including some over-the-counter cold remedies.

To prevent hypothermia, make sure your home is warm enough. Set your thermostat to at least 68 degrees to 70 degrees. Even mildly cool homes with temperatures from 60 degrees to 65 degrees can trigger hypothermia.

The best way to identify someone with hypothermia is to look for the "umbles" — stumbles, mumbles, fumbles, and grumbles. Changes in a person's behavior may indicate that the cold is affecting how well their muscles and nerves work. If you suspect that someone is suffering from the cold, and have a thermometer available, take his or her temperature. If their body temperature is 96 degrees or lower, call 911.

The most important step in treating someone with hypothermia is to immediately warm the person. Wrap the person in blankets, towels, coats — whatever is handy. You can also use your own body heat to keep the person warm. Lie close to the victim but be gentle if you rub their arms and legs because an older person's skin may be easily damaged.

Information provided by National Institutes of Health. AASC is one of Virginia’s 25 Area Agencies on Aging designated by the Virginia Department for the Aging to carry out the department’s mission to foster the dignity, independence and security of older Virginians by promoting partnerships with communities at the local level. AASC offers information and services for older adults residing in Buchanan, Dickenson, Russell and Tazewell counties. Visit the organization’s website at www.aasc.org or call toll-free at 1-800-656-2272.