Safe And Sound

By Dayna R. Brown

November 16, 2007 4 min read


Winter poses health risks unique to aging adults

By Dayna R. Brown

Copley News Service

When the temperature drops, older adults run a high risk of health problems.

So it's important that they, and those who care for them, take certain precautions this time of year, according to the American Geriatrics Society's Foundation for Health in Aging.


Because older adults have slower metabolisms, they tend to produce less body heat than younger people. The body changes as people age, so it's also harder for older adults to tell when the temperature is too low. This can be dangerous because your body, when outside in the cold for too long, begins to lose heat quickly. The result can be hypothermia, a deadly drop in body temperature.

Here's what you should do:

- Stay indoors when it's very cold outside, especially if it's also very windy; and keep indoor temperatures at about 65 degrees. If you do have to go outside, don't stay out long.

- Wear two or three thinner layers of loose-fitting clothing. (They are warmer than a single layer of thick clothing.)

- Stay dry; wet clothing chills your body quickly.

- Go indoors if you start shivering - it's a warning sign that you're losing body heat.

- Know the warning signs of hypothermia: lots of shivering; cold skin that is pale or ashy; feeling very tired, confused and sleepy; feeling weak; problems walking; slowed breathing or heart rate.

- Call 911 if you think someone else has hypothermia.


Burning wood, natural gas, kerosene and other fuels produce carbon monoxide. Unless fireplaces, wood and gas stoves, and gas appliances are properly vented, cleaned and used, they can leak dangerous amounts of carbon monoxide. You should:

- Have fireplace and wood stove chimneys and flues inspected yearly and cleaned when necessary.

- Put a smoke detector and battery-operated carbon monoxide detector in areas where you use fireplaces, wood stoves or kerosene heaters.

- Open a window - just a crack will do - when using a kerosene stove.

- Make sure space heaters are at least 3 feet away from anything that might catch fire, such as curtains, bedding and furniture.

- Never try to heat your home using a gas stove, charcoal grill or other stove not made for home heating.


Adults 65 and older are involved in more car accidents per mile driven than those in nearly all other age groups. Since winter driving can be dangerous, you should:

- Winterize your car (have the antifreeze, tires and windshield wipers checked and changed if necessary.)

- Check weather reports and check for winter weather advisories before beginning long car trips.

- Do not drive on icy roads, overpasses or bridges, if possible; look for another route.

- Slow down when roads are covered with snow or ice.

- Take a cell phone with you when driving in bad weather and let someone know where you're going and when you expect to arrive so they can call for help if you're late.

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