Summer’s heat has arrived (for most of us) and with it come the regular warnings about heat-related illness, especially concerning the very young or the elderly. But it has always perplexed me if elderly people really don’t feel the heat or if their bodies require more warmth with age. Why wouldn’t my 80-something mother put the air conditioning on when temperature soared into the mid 30’s? Why was the heat blasting in every nursing home I ever visited and how could this be healthy?
A study, by Waalen and Buxbaum, form the Scripps Research Institute, found that body temperature does indeed drop as we age. The drop is small, just 0.3 degrees, but small variances in temperature can be the difference between running a fever and being within normal parameters.
There are other explanations for people feeling colder as they age; a decrease in circulation, thinning of the fat layer under the skin that conserves body heat and a slowing metabolism are just some of the changes within the body as it ages.
In some cases drugs, such as beta blockers, can decrease heart rate and thereby reduce blood circulation to hands and feet. According to the American Geriatrics Society, high cholesterol can also reduce blood flow and thyroid conditions can affect the ability to regulate body temperature. Increasing sensitivity to cold can by a sign of diabetes or hypertension; it’s important to consult a doctor if these symptoms persists.
Keeping properly hydrated is the most important thing seniors can do to help prevent heat-related illness. So even if grandma insists on a cardigan in August, keeping an insulated glass filled with chilled water nearly will help prevent dehydration which may result is falls due to dizziness.
The thought of cold, of feeling cold all the time brings to mind a familiar poem my father would often recite by Robert Service:
“It’s the cursed cold, and it’s got right hold till I’m chilled clean through to the bone.
Yet ‘taint being dead – it’s my awful dread of the icy grave that pains;
So I want you to swear that, foul or fair, you’ll cremate my last remains.”
There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your book run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights;
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake LeBarge
I cremated Sam McGee.