Older Adults and Feeling Cold

It might sound like a stereotype, but medical science won’t argue if you say that many older adults often complain about feeling cold. It’s a fact that as we age, some of us find it harder to tolerate cold, especially in hands and feet.

Increasing sensitivity to told temperatures may be the sign of a medical problem such as diabetes or hypertension. It’s also common for medications like beta blockers prescribed to older adults to decrease the heart rate, which can reduce the circulation to our hands and feet. Calcium channel blockers may be prescribed for seniors living with hypertension. The drug works by relaxing blood vessels, and that can contribute to the feeling of being cold. High blood cholesterol and thyroid conditions can also impact our ability to regulate body temperature. For these reasons, it’s important to consult with a medical professional if an older adult complains about constantly feeling cold. If it’s not related to a health condition, it’s likely just a consequence of age.

Colder than it used to be

Healthy older adults may find that they do actually feel colder than they used to. It’s not psychological. One of the most common reasons is a decrease in circulation. As we age, the walls of our blood vessels lose their elasticity. There’s also a thinning of the fat layer under the skin, which helps to conserve body heat. Both of these can contribute to feeling cold.

Metabolic responses also slow down as we age. Our body has a built-in body temperature regulator. The vasoreceptors responsible for this regulation may not be as quick as they used to at directing the body’s blood vessels to constrict in order to raise our body temperature. 

On top of this, science shows that older adults tend to have slightly colder body temperatures. Most of the time, an older adult who feels cold is in no danger. It’s important to understand that hypothermia is a possibility. Hypothermia is a real threat for older adults, and the condition sets in when body temperatures fall below 95 degrees.

While you might associate hypothermia with freezing conditions, seniors with lower metabolism caused by medications or chronic health conditions can get hypothermia in temperatures as warm as the mid-70s.

Feeling cold all the time is a natural condition and part of aging. Once an underlying medical condition is ruled out, warming up is often as easy as putting on a sweater. Scarves and hats aren’t outdoor fashion accessories for older adults, they’re necessities. A warm drink can help a senior shake a cold spell – but keep in mind that adding alcohol to it actually can trigger heat loss.

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