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Senior Health

Cold apartment

12/01/2008

Question:

My Aunt keeps her apartment very cold. She works (Wal-Mart) but she says she can`t afford any more money for heat.

She is always shivering and has on 3 or 4 sweaters when I go over there. I looked at her thermostat and it only said 50 degrees.

Is this bad for her? I don`t think she ever turns it any higher than that. Could she get hypo-thermia? She is 58.

Answer:

Handling environmental temperature gets more difficult as we reach advanced age. But since your aunt is only 58, she is young enough to manage cool temperatures by wearing layers such as sweaters. Hypothermia usually occurs at very cold temperatures.  Shivering is a normal response to temperature that's tool cool for your aunt's comfort. Does your aunt shiver at higher temperatures than 50? Using 3 or 4 sweaters and still shivering may warrant a physical check up with her primary care provider to rule out any circulation or other medical problems that may cause a person to be cold at temperatures like 50 degrees (which is usually considered cool but not cold) while wearing 4 layers of sweaters.  Suggest your aunt get a physical check up. Also, could she afford to get an electric heater to boost the furnace heat? In addition, have your aunt contact the energy company that provides her heat to explain her situation as she may qualify for help from the company to pay her heating bill.

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Response by:

Evelyn L Fitzwater, DSN, RN Evelyn L Fitzwater, DSN, RN
Associate Professor Emerita
Associate Director of the
College of Nursing
University of Cincinnati