Stay warm this winter! Protect yourself from cold stress.

Winter is coming! Winter often brings holiday festivities, beautiful snowy weather, and cold temperatures. While the snow and cold can help the season feel special, they can also be very dangerous. People who aren’t protected from the cold, especially older adults, might be at risk for a condition called hypothermia, or cold stress. Cold stress is caused when someone is exposed to cold temperatures for too long and loses too much of their body heat. This causes their body temperature to drop dangerously. Signs of cold stress include:

·         Shivering or stiffness in the arms and legs

·         Sleepiness or confusion

·         Poor control over body movements

·         Slowed or slurred speech

·         Slow reactions

·         Weak pulse

You might think that cold stress only affects those who stay outside for too long, but it can also affect people who are inside in temperatures that are too cold. Cold stress can even begin to affect you at temperatures as mild as 65 degrees inside! You’re also at risk for cold stress if you don’t dress warmly enough; don’t have shelter from weather elements like cold temperatures, snow, rain, or wind; live in a house or room that is cold; eat poorly; or take certain prescription medications or over-the-counter medications for the cold or flu.

Older adults are at a higher risk for cold stress than younger adults because their bodies respond differently to cold temperatures than they did when they were younger. Your body’s response to cold weakens as you age. Many older adults also have chronic conditions or use medications that can make them more vulnerable to cold temperatures. If you take medications for high blood pressure, depression, nervousness, poor circulation, and sleeplessness, you may be at a higher risk for cold stress.

There are some ways that you can prevent cold stress. These include:

·         Staying warm and dry both inside and outside

·         Avoiding exposure to snow, wind, rain, and water/dampness

·         Dressing warmly- wearing loose layers of wool clothing, covering your head and neck, changing out of damp clothing, and wearing warm shoes and socks

·         Eating nutritious, hot meals on a regular basis

·         Drinking plenty of fluids

If you think that you or a loved one may be experiencing cold stress, call 911 immediately. Until help arrives, you should:

·         Cover your head and neck

·         Take off wet or damp clothing and put on warm, dry clothing

·         Wrap yourself or your loved one in blankets, towels, extra clothes, or newspaper

·         Warm yourself or your loved one gradually

In an emergency, DO NOT:

·         Give hot drinks or hot food

·         Give alcohol or medications

·         Bathe or shower

·         Rub or massage arms and legs

For more information about cold stress, please visit the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging’s blog post about the topic or the National Institute on Aging.