Living conditions, illness, and some medicines (those affecting the body's ability to respond to cold) increase the risk for hypothermia.
People who live in poorly heated homes risk getting accidental hypothermia when the weather is cold. Even mildly cool temperatures of 60° F (15.5° C) to 65° F (18.3° C) can trigger the condition. Homes can have inadequate insulation, or people with low incomes and little savings may keep temperatures in the dangerous range as they try to keep heating bills down.
Some help is available. To improve insulation, some states fund programs to help low income families weatherize their homes. You can contact your state or local energy agency or the local power or gas company for more information. Weatherizing your home, or heating only one or two of the in-use rooms of a house, will keep the heating bills down.
In addition, some low-income families may qualify for help in paying their heating bills. State and local energy agencies, or gas and electric companies, have special programs. You can contact them for details. Also, if a person cannot pay a utility bill, many states and cities now have laws that stop landlords from cutting off gas or electricity in cold weather, at least until other plans are made. Do not wait for winter to find out about these programs.
Check with your local government about the laws that may apply, then pass this information along to a relative or an older person's legal representative.
Older people may be vulnerable to hypothermia even when they live in nursing homes or group facilities. These institutions have to be careful when lowering temperatures, because patients who are already sick may have special difficulty keeping warm.
Being knowledgeable about the weather can help reduce risks too. For example, brisk winds cause more rapid heat loss than calmer weather. Weather forecasters call this the wind-chill factor. They often suggest, even when the temperature itself is not very low, that the wind-chill factor is low enough for people to stay indoors.
Some illnesses and medications place a person at risk because they affect the way the body handles cold temperatures. Illnesses that may blunt the response to cold include:
Certain medicines also increase the risk of accidental hypothermia. They include drugs used to treat anxiety, depression, or nausea, and some over-the-counter cold remedies. Ask your doctor how your medicines affect body heat. In addition to some medication, alcoholic drinks lower the body's ability to retain heat.