Why Winter Weather is Tough for the Elderly

Car with winter tyres installed on light alloy wheels in snowy oMany may not appreciate the environmental climate changes that commonly occur anywhere from fall to spring. For older citizens, ice and snow pose possible fall hazards that could result in broken bones. Journeying outdoors while wearing non-skid boots or having a companion reduces fall risks. However, colder indoor and outdoor temperatures also present additional dangers. Even with mild temperature decreases, winds lower outdoor temperatures even further. A 30 degree sunny day drops quickly to 15 degrees when 30 mile per hour winds occur. The National Institute on Aging advises that cold weather and precipitation carry potential hazards of hypothermia and overexertion.

Risk of Hypothermia

The term hypothermia refers to a condition that occurs when someone’s body temperature drops beneath the normal range and remains lowered for an extended length of time. As people age, the ability to maintain a normal body temperature decreases. Cardiovascular conditions that affect blood circulation contribute to the problem. Older people oftentimes become less active, which generates less body heat. These factors may put an elderly person in danger despite being exposed to even milder cold temperatures.

Hypothermia Symptoms

When the body temperature falls to 96 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, the symptoms of hypothermia may begin. Initially, the affected person may look or sound confused. Reaction time diminishes. The individual may complain of feeling sleepy. Speech becomes slurred and overall shivering accompanies a stiffening of the limbs, which slows physical movement. The pulse also weakens. The condition represents an emergency that requires immediate medical intervention.

Prevention Tips

  • When the weather turns cold, older people should wear layers of loose clothing. Each layer serves to trap warm air and thus keep the body warmer.
  • Wearing gloves, mittens, hats, or scarves prevents body heat from escaping via the hands and head.
  • Before going outdoors, stretch indoors to raise body temperature.
  • Indoors, wearing long underwear beneath normal clothing traps body heat. Elderly residents might additionally consider wearing socks and slippers. Use afghans or blankets to prevent heat loss from arms, legs, and shoulders.
  • Keep thermostats set to a minimum of 65 degrees Fahrenheit. While many are tempted to reduce indoor heat for financial reasons, the action could trigger hypothermia. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides the elderly with funding that assists with heating costs.
  • Consult with a healthcare provider to help assess medications that may contribute to hypothermia. Have the prescriptions or dosages altered if needed.
  • Avoid drinking alcoholic beverages before venturing outdoors. While alcohol creates the illusion of warming the body, blood vessels actually expand, which allows heat to circulate away from internal organs where it is needed most.


For someone diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, outdoor activities could put an unnecessary strain on the heart and increase the risk of heart attack. These activities may include walking through snow drifts or wet snow. Lifting heavy shovels filled with wet snow are also ill-advised.

Prevent Overexertion

  • Dress properly.
  • Get a ride to the intended destination if possible.
  • If possible, find someone else to shovel the snow.
  • Take it slow and stop for frequent breaks during the activity.
  • Shovel small amounts of snow with each scoop.

The Law Office of Andrew M. Lamkin, P.C. can assist your family with a variety of legal and non-legal matters concerning the elderly. Call us today or fill out our online contact form and we will get back to you within 24 hours.

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