Medical Myth: Cold weather increases the risk of hypothermia

Dr Max Pemberton

Older people are perhaps not more at risk of hypothermia but Dr Max Pemberton explains that support may still be necessary in the colder months.

Where did the myth come from?

We know that, tragically, thousands of older people die from hypothermia each winter. The myth that the colder it is, the riskier it is for older people seems obvious. It’s not true though. In fact, they’re most at risk when the temperature is cold but not freezing. 

 

What's the truth?

The vast majority of coldness-related deaths occur when the temperatures outside are between 2C and 6C. This is because people—especially those on low incomes such as pensioners—try and avoid putting the heating up. They make do, without realising that actually their bodies are struggling. But when it’s freezing, they’re more likely to give in and turn on the heating. It’s also likely that when it’s very cold, neighbours, friends and family become worried and check on them, and pick up on any problems.

 

So what can be done?

It’s important that older people don’t scrimp when it comes to heating. They should check that it’s working before the cold snaps start. It’s also vitally important that you drop in on elderly neighbours or relatives, even if it’s not freezing outside. You could literally save their lives. It also helps tackle that other issue affecting older people: loneliness. Let’s all do our bit this winter to help.

 

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