OKLAHOMA CITY – Older adults and those who are sick are more sensitive to colder temperatures. For these groups, even a home or apartment between 60°F and 65°F may not be warm enough to keep them safe from hypothermia.

Oklahoma City Indian Clinic, a nonprofit clinic providing health and wellness services to American Indians in central Oklahoma, is promoting ways for older adults to keep warm during cold winter weather.

“Older people who live alone may find themselves in a dangerous situation this winter if no one else is around to notice symptoms of hypothermia or feel the chilliness of the home,” OKCIC’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Janice Hixson said. “It’s important to dress warmly and ask a friend or relative to check on you.” 

Here are other ways to keep warm during cold winter weather:

  • Set your heat to at least 68-70°F. To conserve energy, close off rooms you are not using, and close the vents in those rooms. Place a rolled towel in front of all doors to keep out drafts. For more assistance with heating bills, contact the National Energy Assistance Referral Service at 1-866-674-6327 to get information about the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
  • Keep your blinds and curtains closed to prevent losing heat through your windows. Use weather stripping or caulk to seal any gaps around the windows.
  • Layer long underwear underneath your clothes and use extra covers. Wear socks and slippers, and add a hat if needed.
  • Eat enough food. If you don’t eat well, you may lose body fat and have trouble staying warm.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol or drink alcohol moderately. Alcoholic drinks can make you lose body heat.
  • If you experience a power outage, ask to stay with a relative or friend.
  • Use a portable space heater to keep warm, but use it cautiously. Some are fire hazards or can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Check saferproducts.gov for recalls.

“Some medications or illnesses, such as diabetes, arthritis and thyroid problems, make it difficult to maintain your body temperature,” Hixson said. “Talk to your medical provider about any health problems or medicines that might increase your risk for hypothermia and discuss how you can prevent it.”

Early warning signs of hypothermia include cold feet and hands, pale skin, swollen face, slow or slurred speech, acting sleepy or becoming angry and confused. Call 911 immediately if you think someone has hypothermia. Afterwards, try to move the person to a warmer place and wrap the person in blankets, towels or coats. You may give the person something warm to drink, but avoid alcohol and caffeine. Do not rub the person’s arms or legs, use a heating pad or try to warm the person in a bath. 

Cold winter temperatures can be unsafe for vulnerable groups, but taking precautions can keep older adults and those with illnesses warm and safe.