Winter Woes: Keeping the Elderly Warm |
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 Winter Woes: Keeping The Elderly Warm


If you are a caretaker or family member living with a senior citizen, you may already know that the winter months can be a difficult time for them. Because elderly individuals have less body fat and less insulation as a result, it can be hard for them to stay warm even when the temperatures outside have yet to drop. Elderly patients typically have limited mobility which also makes it difficult for them to maintain an optimal core body temperature. These factors unfortunately put them at risk for hypothermia.


In order for your body to properly function, it has to maintain a consistent core temperature of around 97.7–99.5°F. Hypothermia is when your body temperature drops below 95°F. This can happen when you are exposed to cold weather or submerged in cold water. In the case of elderly individuals, the temperature outside or inside the home does not have to be very low to cause this.

High Risk Patients

While any elderly person is at risk for hypothermia in cold temperatures, diabetics and those with heart disease or active thyroids are even more vulnerable. Many senior citizens take prescriptions medications and this, too, can increase their risk. This especially applies to medications treating nausea, depression, or anxiety. Even over-the-counter cold medications can increase the risk.  

Symptoms of Hypothermia

If you are concerned that your elderly patient is getting too cold and is at risk of hypothermia, keep an eye out for excessive shivering, increased heart rate, dizziness, fatigue, or even mild confusion. As hypothermia becomes more moderate, patients may start to slur their words, have a weakened pulse, and even try to remove warm clothing as a result of increased confusion. Always have a thermometer handy to take their temperature. If their temp is 96 or below, call emergency services immediately.


If your elderly loved one is approaching a dangerous drop in temperature, there are some measures you can take before calling 911. When hypothermia starts to set in, your primary objective is to warm the patient up gradually. Layer on clothing and light blankets and give them warm drinks to sip. Try to move to a warmer location but do not increase the surrounding temperature abruptly. Do not force the patient to exert themselves. However, if you are ever in doubt, always call 911.

Tips for Keeping Warm 

  • Properly heating your home in the winter is extremely important for the health of elderly individuals. If you use central heating, set your thermostat for 70°F, particularly in the rooms that get the most use during the day. Space heaters are also a great option since the heat can be confined to single spaces or rooms. This way, patients will be warm at higher temperatures and caretakers will be comfortable in other areas of the house. Maintain a temperature of at least 65°F during the night, if possible.  Infrared heaters can heat a room without removing moisture from the air, as humidity is a big help in keeping the air in your home warm.


  • If your home is drafty, track down the cold spots and see if they could use some extra insulation. Foam door stoppers and extra caulking around the windows can greatly reduce heat-loss in house.


  • The right clothing is also important in the winter. Pile on thin layers and use insulating fabrics such as cotton or wool. The most important areas of the body to keep warm are the hands, neck, and head.


  • Encourage exercise that is appropriate for their age, mobility, and health. Not only is it generally good for them, it increases body heat.

 Other Winter Health Tips

In general, winter is a tricky time for the elderly. It can not only affect their bodies, but also their emotional well-being. Here are a few tips for keeping your senior citizen happy and healthy this winter.


  • Be prepared - Have your heating system checked or chimney cleaned. Stock up on small electric heaters just in case you need some extra heat on the quick. Stock up on over-the-counter cold remedies. Fill your cabinets with non-perishable foods and look into signing up for a grocery delivery service.


  • Flu shot - The flu vaccine can take up to 10 days to reach its full effect so make sure to get it as soon as it is available.


  • Frequent hand washing - Germs spread like crazy during the winter. Do your best to keep your hands and the surfaces in your home clean to reduce the risk of getting sick.


  • Stay social - Winter is a difficult time for those prone to depression. The short, dark days and the cold weather can take a toll. Try to get your elderly patient socializing or at least up and out of the house if possible. Human interaction is crucial to keeping their spirits up.


  • Above all, be vigilant. Your elderly patient or loved one may not be able to convey that they are getting too cold. Take the proper measures to keep them safe and warm this winter.