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NIH cautions older adults, caregivers to be vigilant about hypothermia

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic leader on aging. Her work has appeared in NextAvenue.com, Journal of Active Aging, Cancer Today, Kaiser Health News and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University and co-produces the HealthCetera podcast.

Photo: U.S. Pacific Fleet via Flickr

Photo: U.S. Pacific Fleet via Flickr

Hypothermia is a dangerous drop in body temperature that may result in long term, serious health problems such as a heart attack, kidney or liver damage, or death.

Older adults are especially vulnerable to hypothermia because their body’s response to cold is often diminished by underlying medical conditions such as diabetes. Certain medications, including over-the-counter cold remedies, can also affect the body’s response to temperature.

According to the National Institute on Aging, hypothermia is generally defined as having a core body temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. It can occur when the outside environment gets too cold or the body’s heat production decreases. Hypothermia can develop in older adults even after relatively short exposure to cold weather or a small drop in temperature. Recent CDC data shows that nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of the 2,000 weather related deaths for all ages between 2006-10 were due to exposure to excessive cold, hypothermia, or both. Between 1999 and 2002, 49 percent of those who died from hypothermia were aged 65 or older, 67 percent were male. Continue reading