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When temperatures drop, seniors are at risk

January 7, 2014

Winter weather descended on the Midwest earlier his week, and although the region is certainly no stranger to cold temperatures, this most recent stretch of frigid air is among the chilliest ever on record. A so-called polar vortex brought temperatures as low as 45 below zero to parts of Minnesota and North Dakota, while major hubs like Chicago were around 15 below, The Weather Channel reported. The bone-chilling temperatures should serve as a reminder of the dangers winter poses to seniors. 

At a greater risk
Cold weather affects all people differently, but older adults are typically the most vulnerable to cold-related conditions. For instance, they are particularly susceptible to hypothermia. This is due in large part to the fact that the body's ability to withstand cold tends to decrease with age, according to the National Institute on Aging. With at least two more months of cold weather ahead for much of the U.S., it would be wise for seniors and those who care for them to take a renewed look at how to prevent hypothermia.

In addition to avoiding exposure to cold temperatures whenever possible, seniors should also think about how they're dressed. For instance, older adults should wear multiple layers of loose clothing because it will help trap warm air between them. Seniors should also talk about their medications with their doctors, because certain drugs can lower the body's temperature as well.

Look for the signs
Along with being proactive when it comes to avoiding hypothermia, caregivers and seniors should be able to recognize the symptoms associated with the condition. According to the NIA, confusion, dizziness and slurred speech are all indicators that something could be wrong. A weak pulse and sleepiness can also be signs. 

Other concerns
Hypothermia is not the only cold weather concern related to healthy aging. Seniors are also at a greater risk for frostbite, especially when the thermometer reading drops significantly below zero. Older adults should only venture outside in such frigid weather if it's absolutely necessary. They should also look out for the symptoms of frostbite, which include pale, gray or blistered skin, as well as a growing feeling of numbness in the extremities.