Why Do Old People Get Cold So Easily? Tips for Caregivers

Why Do Old People Get Cold So Easily? Tips for Caregivers

March 6, 2024

As we age, our bodies undergo a myriad of changes. One such change, often noticed but seldom understood, is the increased sensitivity to cold. This phenomenon raises concerns, especially for caregivers who strive to ensure the comfort and well-being of the elderly. Comprehending the reasons behind this increased cold sensitivity and learning effective management strategies are crucial in providing optimal care.

Understanding the Physiology Behind Increased Cold Sensitivity in the Elderly

One of the primary reasons for increased cold sensitivity in older adults is decreased metabolic rate. Metabolism naturally slows down with age, resulting in less internal heat production. The deterioration of the thermoregulatory system in the elderly makes it more challenging for their bodies to maintain a stable internal temperature. Another significant factor is the reduction in subcutaneous fat. This layer of fat acts as an insulator, and its thinning in older individuals decreases the ability to retain heat. Circulatory issues common in the elderly, such as arteriosclerosis, further impair heat distribution throughout the body.

Effective Strategies for Caregivers

Caring for the elderly, especially in colder climates, requires a nuanced approach considering their physical and emotional well-being. 

Here’s an expanded look at the effective strategies caregivers can employ:

Maintain a Warm and Comfortable Environment:

Temperature Control: Maintaining a consistent, warm temperature in the living space is vital. While 68-70°F (20-21°C) is generally recommended, adjusting this based on the senior's comfort is important. Consider using programmable thermostats for consistent temperature regulation.

Insulation and Draft Proofing: Ensure that the living space is well insulated. Check for drafts around windows and doors and use draft excluders to prevent cold air from entering.

Humidity Levels: Dry air can exacerbate the feeling of cold. A humidifier can help maintain a comfortable humidity, reducing dry skin and respiratory irritation.

Safe Heating Practices: When using additional heating sources like space heaters, ensure they are safely placed away from flammable materials and are not left unattended.

Encourage Appropriate Clothing:

Layered Clothing: Encourage wearing multiple layers of light, warm clothing. This traps heat more effectively and allows for easy adjustment to different indoor temperatures.

Fabric Choice: Opt for fabrics that retain heat well, such as wool and fleece. Avoid cotton, as it doesn’t provide as much insulation when cold.

Protecting Extremities: Pay special attention to hands, feet, and the head, as these parts lose heat quickly. Encourage using gloves, thick socks, and hats even indoors if necessary.

Adaptive Clothing: For those with limited mobility, consider specially designed clothing that is easier to put on and take off while providing warmth and comfort.

Promote Physical Activity:

Customized Exercise Plans: Design gentle exercise routines compatible with seniors' health status and mobility. This can range from simple stretching to walking or light aerobics.

Indoor Exercise Options: During extremely cold days, have a set of indoor exercises ready to keep them active and warm.

Encourage Regular Movement: Walking around the house can aid circulation and heat production.

Optimize Nutrition and Hydration:

Balanced Diet: Ensure their diet includes a good mix of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, which are essential for energy and heat production. Incorporate seasonal fruits and vegetables for vitamins and minerals.

Warm Meals and Drinks: Serve warm, hearty meals like soups and stews. Warm beverages like herbal teas can provide comfort and warmth.

Adequate Hydration: Older adults might not feel as thirsty in colder weather, but staying hydrated is crucial. Encourage the intake of fluids throughout the day.

Regular Health Check-ups:

Monitoring Chronic Conditions: Regular check-ups help manage conditions like flu, diabetes, and heart disease, which can affect the body's ability to stay warm.

Medication Review: Some medications can influence body temperature regulation. Regular reviews with healthcare providers can ensure that their medication regimen is not contributing to increased cold sensitivity.

Vaccinations: Keeping up with vaccinations, especially in colder months, can prevent illnesses that might compromise their overall health.

By diligently applying these expanded strategies, caregivers can significantly enhance the comfort and safety of the elderly during colder seasons, ensuring their well-being is prioritized at all times.

Additional Considerations for Caregivers

Caring for elderly individuals, particularly during colder months, goes beyond maintaining a warm environment. It also involves addressing specific health and safety concerns unique to this age group. Here’s a more detailed look at these additional considerations:

Skin Care in Cold Weather:

Hydration and Moisturizing: Elderly skin is dry, making regular moisturizing crucial. Use mild, fragrance-free moisturizers, preferably those formulated for sensitive skin. Apply them after bathing while the skin is damp to lock in moisture.

Gentle Bathing Practices: Avoid hot water baths as they can strip the skin of its natural oils. Instead, use lukewarm water and limit bath time. Gentle, soap-free cleansers are preferable to harsh soaps.

Protecting Skin Outdoors: When going outside, protecting the skin from cold winds is important. Using scarves and gloves can help, as well as applying a protective barrier cream or ointment on exposed skin.

Hydration from Inside: Encourage a diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and plenty of fluids to help maintain skin hydration from within.

Monitoring Indoor Air Quality:

Ventilation: Even in cold weather, it’s important to have some air circulation to prevent the buildup of pollutants. Periodically open windows to allow fresh air in or use an air purifier.

Humidity Control: Maintain a healthy humidity level indoors to prevent the air from becoming too dry, which can aggravate respiratory conditions and dry out the skin. A humidity level of around 30-50% is often recommended.

Avoiding Pollutants: Be mindful of products that can deteriorate indoor air quality, such as certain cleaning agents, aerosol sprays, and tobacco smoke.

Safety Measures in Heating:

Safe Heating Practices: Always ensure that any space heaters are placed on a stable, level surface and away from flammable materials. Never leave heating equipment unattended; ensure that the elderly and their caregivers know how to operate them safely.

Carbon Monoxide Safety: If using gas heaters, install carbon monoxide detectors to prevent the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Regular Maintenance: Regularly check and maintain heating systems to ensure they function safely and efficiently.

Understanding the physiological changes that make the elderly more sensitive to colds is crucial for caregivers. This understanding, coupled with the comprehensive strategies and considerations detailed above, empowers caregivers to provide a higher level of care. Implementing these practices not only enhances the physical comfort of the elderly during cold weather but also promotes their overall health and well-being. With attentive care, the challenges of cold sensitivity can be effectively managed, ensuring that the golden years of our loved ones are comfortable and safe.

Contact BrightStar Care of Conejo Valley & Coastal Los Angeles Today! 

BrightStar Care of Conejo Valley & Coastal Los Angeles is a female-owned and operated company that provides you with the resources and support you need to take care of your loved one. 

Contact us through our website at  805-233-3800 or visit us at 370 N. Westlake Blvd. Suite 120 Westlake Village, CA 91362, and speak with one of our experts who will help you get started. Thank you for taking the time to read this!