When your body temperature sinks below 96°F, you have hypothermia. Prolonged exposure to temperatures as warm as 60°F, particularly in water, can trigger hypothermia if you aren't properly dressed.
Of the approximately 1,300 people the CDC maintains hypothermia kills yearly, most are seniors, according to the National Institute of Aging, but some are children and young adults. Everyone needs to be careful. Some medicines, problems with circulation, and certain illnesses may reduce your ability to resist hypothermia.
As you age, your body becomes less efficient at letting you know when you are too cold. In addition, older people tend not to shiver effectively, one of the ways the body warms itself up. Remember these tips to help prevent hypothermia:
- Dress in layers
- Wrap up well when going outside in the cold.
- Avoid breezes and drafts indoors.
- Eat nutritious food and wear warm clothes to ward off winter chill.
- Wear a warm hat in the winter.
- Eat hot foods and drink warm drinks several times during the day.
- If you live alone, ask a family member of neighbor to check on you daily or have a camera installed that a family member can view on their computer.
- Ask your doctor if any medicine you're taking increases your risk of hypothermia. Drugs that may cause a problem include barbiturates, benzodiazepines, chlorpromazine, reserpine, and tricyclic antidepressants.
If your temperature is 96°F or less, you feel cold and sluggish, or are having trouble thinking clearly, see your doctor immediately or go to the nearest emergency room. It's better to be overly cautious than to die of a disorder that doesn't have to be deadly.
If you are trying to help someone who may have hypothermia, first call an ambulance. Then lie close to the person and cover both of you with thick blankets. The hotter you get, the more warmth you can give the other person. Don't rub the person or handle him or her roughly.