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Does Feeling Cold In Elderly People Signal Impending Health Issues?

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elderly woman wrapped in a blanket

As a senior home safety specialist and a dementia care specialist, I’ve often been approached by concerned family caregivers of seniors and elderly adults with a pressing question:

Why do older individuals feel cold more often?

This phenomenon isn’t just a quirk of old age; it’s deeply rooted in the physiological changes and health conditions that come with aging.

It’s very true that as we all get older, our bodies simply aren’t able to regulate our internal temperature as well as they used to.

When I worked as an Occupational Therapist with nursing home residents, they were often wrapped up in sweaters with blankets on their lap. Yet, the room temperature was 82 degrees or higher!

So, let’s get into the reasons why this is happening and if it’s a cause for concern.

Is feeling cold all the time a health problem? Is it a sign of morbidity?

Feeling cold all the time can be indicative of certain health issues. While occasional cold sensitivity might be influenced by external factors like environment, persistent feelings of coldness can be a symptom of underlying medical conditions.

If someone consistently feels cold when others do not, it’s advisable to consult a healthcare professional to rule out any potential health concerns.

The Science Behind Cold Sensitivity In Older Adults

Both my mother and mom-in-law were always cold!

They were both in their 80’s at the time and even though they lived in South Florida where the weather would reach into the high 90’s, they both would wear long sleeve sweaters and more!

The truth is, that cold sensitivity is a common symptom among older adults. But why?

As we get older, the part of our body that helps us stay the right temperature might not work as well.

This means it could be harder for us to deal with hot and cold weather. The things our body does to keep us warm, like shivering, or to keep us from getting too cold, like making our blood vessels smaller, might not work as effectively.

This can make it tougher for our body to control its temperature.

  • Decreased Muscle Mass: Muscle generates heat. As we age, we tend to lose muscle mass, which can lead to feeling colder.
  • Thinner Skin and Less Body Fat: Older people often have thinner skin and less body fat, which act as insulators. Less insulation means more susceptibility to cold temperatures.
  • Poor Blood Circulation: Conditions like peripheral artery disease and high blood pressure can lead to poor blood flow, making it harder for blood to reach extremities like hands and feet.
  • Chronic Conditions: Diseases such as diabetes mellitus, kidney disease, and cardiovascular disease can affect the body’s ability to regulate temperature.

Additional chronic conditions that can contribute to you (or a senior loved one) feeling cold all the time include:

  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Low blood pressure
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Anemia
  • Some medications can also cause this

I know from working on so many hospitals and nursing homes as an Occupational Therapist that multiple medical issues can easily contribute to patients feeling cold.

My experience tells me that understanding these factors can help family members ensure the comfort and safety of their elderly loved ones during the cold winter months.

Additional Factors Influencing Cold Sensitivity

While the primary reasons mentioned above play a significant role in why older adults feel cold, there are other factors to consider:

Reduced Metabolic Rate

As people age, their metabolic rate often slows down. A slower metabolism means the body produces less heat from the food we eat.

This can contribute to an elderly person feeling colder than a younger individual.


Certain medications can affect the body’s ability to regulate temperature. For instance, beta-blockers, used to treat high blood pressure, can reduce the body’s ability to warm itself.

It’s essential for caregivers to be aware of the side effects of any medication their elderly family member is taking.


Older adults are at a higher risk of dehydration. Water plays a vital role in heat regulation.

When dehydrated, the body struggles to maintain its core temperature, leading to feelings of coldness.

Sedentary Lifestyle

A lack of physical activity can contribute to feelings of coldness. Regular movement helps boost circulation and generate heat.

Health Risks Associated With Cold In The Elderly

Cold isn’t just an inconvenience; it can pose serious health risks, especially for the elderly.

Heart and Respiratory Diseases

Cold weather can increase the risk of heart attack and respiratory disease.

Cold temperatures cause blood vessels to narrow, which can increase blood pressure and the risk of a myocardial infarction.


Signs of hypothermia include cold hands, shivering, and confusion. It’s crucial to seek medical attention if an elderly person shows these signs, especially during cold winters.

Weakened Immune System

Cold can weaken the immune system, making older adults more susceptible to illnesses like the sars-cov-2 infection.

Mental Health Implications

Cold and the winter season can also impact mental health.

Social isolation is a common issue during colder months, which can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and depression.

Additional Health Concerns From Cold Exposure

While the primary health risks associated with cold in the elderly have been highlighted, there are other concerns to be aware of:


Frostbite is a condition where skin and underlying tissues freeze. Elderly individuals, especially those with poor circulation, are at a higher risk.

Symptoms include numbness, tingling, or pain in the affected area, and the skin may appear pale or white. If you suspect frostbite, it’s essential to gently warm the area and seek medical attention.

Arthritis Flare-Ups

Many elderly individuals suffer from arthritis, and cold weather can exacerbate the pain and stiffness associated with this condition. Keeping joints warm can help alleviate some of the discomfort.

Increased Fall Risk

Cold weather can lead to icy conditions, increasing the risk of falls for older adults. A fall can result in fractures or other injuries, which can be particularly dangerous for the elderly.

Respiratory Problems

Cold air can be harsh on the lungs, leading to conditions like bronchitis or exacerbating existing respiratory diseases like asthma or COPD.

Preventative Measures To Mitigate Risks

To protect yourself and elderly loved ones from the adverse effects of cold, consider the following:

  1. Stay Informed: Keep an eye on weather forecasts, especially during the winter season, and plan activities accordingly.
  2. Home Safety: Ensure walkways are clear of ice and snow. Use salt or sand to improve traction.
  3. Stay Indoors: On particularly cold days, it’s best to stay indoors. If going out is necessary, limit the time spent outside.
  4. Stay Connected: Regularly check on elderly neighbors, friends, or family members, especially during cold spells.
  5. Nutrition: Eating balanced meals can help keep energy levels up and the body warm.
  6. Avoid Alcohol: While it might feel warming, alcohol can cause the body to lose heat more rapidly.

How To Protect Older Individuals From Cold

Protection from cold is paramount, especially for those with underlying health conditions.

  • Warm Clothing: Ensure that elderly individuals wear layers and have access to warm clothing.
  • Maintain a Warm Environment: Low indoor temperatures can be harmful. It’s a good idea to keep homes heated to a comfortable level.
  • Stay Active: Physical activity can help generate body heat. Encourage older adults to engage in light exercises.
  • Regular Check-ups: Regular visits to a healthcare provider can help identify and manage potential causes of cold sensitivity.

For more insights on this topic, you might want to check out this comprehensive guide.

Tips To Combat Cold Sensitivity

Knowing the reasons behind cold sensitivity is half the battle.

Here are some practical steps to help older adults stay warm:

  1. Stay Informed: Keep an eye on weather forecasts, especially during the winter season, and plan activities accordingly.
  2. Layer Up: Wearing multiple layers can trap body heat more effectively than one thick layer.
  3. Stay Hydrated: Drink warm fluids regularly. Soups and herbal teas are excellent choices.
  4. Limit Caffeine and Alcohol: Both can dilate blood vessels, causing heat to escape from the body’s surface.
  5. Stay Active: Simple exercises, even seated ones, can help boost circulation and generate warmth.
  6. Eat Regularly: Eating boosts your metabolism and generates heat. Opt for warm, hearty meals.
  7. Use Warm Accessories: Items like heated blankets, warm socks, and mittens can make a significant difference.
  8. Limit Exposure: On particularly cold days, limit time spent outside and ensure you’re adequately dressed if you do go out.
  9. Check the Home: Ensure there are no drafts in the home. Use draft stoppers and insulate windows if necessary.
  10. Warm Beverages: Drink hot teas, soups, or broths to warm up from the inside.
  11. Consult a Doctor: If cold sensitivity is persistent and not linked to environmental factors, it might be worth checking for underlying health conditions.

Do Dementia Patients Feel The Cold More?

Dementia patients often experience a range of sensory changes, and temperature perception is one of them.

Several factors contribute to why individuals with dementia might feel the cold more or differently than others:

  1. Altered Perception: Dementia can affect how the brain interprets signals from the body, including those related to temperature. This can lead to an impaired ability to recognize when they are cold.
  2. Decreased Activity: Many dementia patients become less active as the disease progresses. Reduced physical activity can lead to decreased body heat production.
  3. Medications: Some medications prescribed for dementia or its associated symptoms can affect the body’s ability to regulate temperature or perceive cold.
  4. Poor Circulation: As with the general elderly population, dementia patients can have conditions like peripheral artery disease that affect blood circulation, making them more susceptible to cold.
  5. Communication Difficulties: Dementia patients might feel cold but may not be able to communicate their discomfort effectively.
  6. Inadequate Dressing: Cognitive impairments can lead to challenges in dressing appropriately for the weather. They might not wear enough layers or forget to wear warmer clothing in cold conditions.
  7. Metabolic Changes: Dementia can bring about metabolic changes that affect body temperature regulation.

It’s essential for caregivers to be observant and proactive in ensuring the comfort and safety of dementia patients, especially in colder environments.

Regularly checking if they are warm enough, providing layered clothing, and maintaining a comfortable room temperature can help mitigate the effects of cold sensitivity.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is cold sensitivity a sign of a medical problem in older adults?

While cold sensitivity can be a part of the normal aging process, it can also indicate underlying health conditions like poor blood circulation or chronic diseases.

How does cold affect blood pressure in the elderly?

Cold temperatures cause blood vessels to constrict, leading to increased blood pressure, which can be a risk factor for heart disease.

Why do elderly individuals have less body fat?

The body composition changes with age. Older adults might have less body fat due to factors like decreased food intake, metabolic changes, or health issues.

Are older adults at a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency during cold months?

Yes, during cold winter months, there’s less sunlight, which can lead to vitamin D deficiency, especially in older adults who might not go outside as often.

In conclusion, understanding the reasons behind cold sensitivity in older adults and the associated health implications is crucial for caregivers.

By being informed, we can ensure the well-being and comfort of our elderly loved ones.

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