NIH Press Release
National Institute on Aging

Tuesday, January 25, 2000

Contact: Suzanne Lewis
(301) 496-1752

When Jack Frost Howls, Take Cover — Even Indoors Hypothermia Alert for Older People Disease

Chilly air and blustery winds can be deadly cold, especially for older people who are at higher risk for hypothermia than are young adults.

Hypothermia is a below-normal body temperature, typically 96 Fahrenheit or lower. Surprisingly, hypothermia can threaten the health of older people in cool indoor temperatures such as 60F to 65F. As people age, they may lose their natural ability to keep warm in the cold, and inactivity, illness, and certain medications make it even more difficult.

Usually we think of hypothermia as something that happens to people outdoors, says Dr. Terrie Wetle, Deputy Director of the National Institute on Aging (NIA). It is important to know that some older people may have a dangerous drop in body temperature inside their own home.

According to Dr. Wetle, elderly poor people are at an increased risk for hypothermia because they may keep indoor temperatures low to save on heating costs.

Signs of hypothermia include any unusual change in behavior, confusion, sleepiness, clumsiness, slurred speech and shallow breathing. The sure way to detect hypothermia is by taking a person's temperature. A temperature below 96F will not register on many oral thermometers. If the temperature reading is at or below 96F, call 911 immediately.

Hypothermia can be prevented. The NIA recommends that if you are an older person you should:

For a list of free brochures and booklets about aging and health topics of interest to older people, call the NIA Information Center at (800) 222-2225, or visit the NIA website:

Dr. Terrie Wetle is available to discuss hypothermia and aging. If you'd like to arrange for an interview call Suzanne Lewis at (301) 496-1752.