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Thousands of older people die each year from cold-related illnesses in the winter months. In the UK in the last six years more than 150,000 over 65s died. The UK has more winter related deaths than any other country - Why? Preparation!

Because it may not 'look' cold, or 'feel' cold, or you do not see any snow or ice, does not mean that it would be in order to step outside in just a jacket! Lack of proper clothing (many layers preferred to one or two) may lead to many cold related ailments, such as strokes and heart attacks - whatever age you may be!

When the weather gets cold, elders especially may develop a reduction in their body temperature more easily as a result of decreased ability in temperature control and decrease in subcutaneous fat. Excessive drop in body temperature can lead to hypothermia. Elders with chronic illnesses, such as chronic respiratory diseases or asthma, are also vulnerable to disease deterioration in cold weather.


  1. Put on adequate clothing. Wear several layers of not too tight or too bulky clothing. Always wear a hat and gloves, since ears and fingertips as well as noses are extremely susceptible to frost nip and frost bite.
  2. Consume hot and easily digestible food and beverages with higher calories, like hot milk, soup, noodles and rice. Remember, alcohol actually accelerates the loss of body heat because it dilates blood vessels, so avoid alcoholic beverages.
  3. Keep the home environment warm but well ventilated. Do not overload electricity supply.
  4. Remain indoors or in places with sunlight. Continue with usual daily activities, but do more exercise to generate heat, improve blood circulation, and maintain flexibility of joints.
  5. Exercise care and concern for the elderly. If you happen to know of a single elder living alone or with chronic illnesses, give him/her a call or pay a visit.
  6. Stay off the ice. Determining the strength of ice is extremely difficult. Ice must be at least six inches thick to maintain the weight of a person and it takes weeks of freezing to get to that thickness.

What is hypothermia?

Hypothermia is defined as a fall in the core body temperature to below 35 degrees C (95 degrees F). Factors such as diabetes mellitus, hypothyroidism, use of hypnotics and alcohol predispose to the development of hypothermia. Anyone suspected to be suffering from hypothermia should be taken to see the doctor or taken to the hospital right away.

  • Mild - (body temp 90-95 degrees) The victim will have cold skin, especially of the hands and feet, pallor, excessive shivering, unsteady gait, difficulty in speaking or slurred speech and confusion. Some elders may not have the shivering response.
  • Moderate - (85-90 degrees) As the body temperature drops, victims become stuporous. Moderate hypothermia is characterized by loss of shivering, muscle rigidity, slowing down of heart beat, loss of voluntary movement and gradual loss of consciousness.
  • Severe - (less than 78 degrees) Victims become unresponsive with irregular heart beat, fall in blood pressure, total loss of consciousness and cardiac arrest.

Who is most susceptible?

  • Very old - May be unaware of their limitations. Due to limited mobility may be forced to spend increased amount of time exposed to the cold weather due to slow ambulation.
  • Very young - Thermoregulatory system is still immature. Babies rely on adults for warmth.
  • Infirmed - Due to illness or injury can't remove themselves from the cold source.







  • Stay indoors and dress warmly.
  • Conserve fuel.
  • Lower the thermostat to 65 degrees during the day and 55 degrees at night. Close off unused rooms.
  • If the pipes freeze, remove any insulation or layers of newspapers and wrap pipes in rags.
  • Completely open all faucets and pour hot water over the pipes, starting where they were most exposed to the cold (or where the cold was most likely to penetrate).
  • Listen to the radio or television to get the latest information.
  • Residents need to be extra careful when using supplemental heating units. Make sure that all-combustible materials such as drapes or chairs are at least three feet away from any heating unit. Avoid using flammable liquids to start fireplaces and do not leave a fireplace unattended. Most importantly, check your smoke detector to make sure it is working properly


  • Dress warmly.
  • Wear loose-fitting, layered, lightweight clothing. Layers can be removed to prevent perspiration and chill. Outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellent. Mittens are warmer than gloves, due to the fact that fingers generate warmth when they touch each other.
  • Keep dry.

Change wet clothing frequently to prevent a loss of body heat. Wet clothing loses all of its insulating value and transmits heat rapidly

Useful related web links

Help The Aged - UK

UK age concern Cold weather alert

American Red cross - services

FEMA - Winter preparation

World meteorological Organisation - Severe weather information centre

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