Why Older People Feel Cold More

Why Older People Feel Cold More

My father, who will be 81 soon, says the cold affects him very badly these days. So much so, that if he moves from a relatively warm room to a cooler temperature, he starts shaking and shivering uncontrollably. In addition he says he feels very cold “inside”. – Helga C., internet question

Perhaps the most common complaint of elderly people who live outside of the subtropical zones of the world is about feeling cold, especially (but not exclusively) in winter.

Within the subtropical zones, older people may feel the heat more than they did when they were younger. (In the tropics, temperatures vary little throughout the year so the body adjusts to whatever the common ambient temperature norm is.)

A search for explanations for why older people feel cold more produces a variety of guesses, always based on the experience of the writer, either with herself or others close to her.

The most common explanation offered is poor circulation. It is true that blood vessels tend to get narrower as people get older. Cholesterol, in some blood vessels, makes the passage through them even smaller. Cholesterol accumulates in arteries, not in veins, and mostly in the core of the body, not in the extremities.

Blood circulation alone could not account for feeling cold, especially in extremities such as hands and feet. So long as blood is flowing to the feet, for example, heat is travelling from the body core to the feet. Where is it going once it reaches the feet? It is obviously not hanging around long enough.

Blood thinners are often labeled as the cause for older people feeling the cold more than younger folks. Thinner blood is needed for those with high blood pressure. Thinner blood should travel faster through blood vessels and people with high blood pressure should have blood pumping near the optimum all the way to the feet. Neither of these should account for cold feet.

My feet and hands sometimes feel extra cold, even when I am in a warmed house. At my age (into traditional retirement years) my blood pressure is on the low side of normal, never high. I do not take blood thinners. Again, if heat from my body core is not having a problem getting to my feet and hands, what is happening to the heat once it gets there?

Skin, particularly the epidermis, the extreme outer layer, gets thinner as people get older. Why?

The extreme outer layer of skin is comprised mostly of dead skin cells. These tend to hang onto what is below better when people are younger because their skin is moister with oil (and water). Younger people have more oil in their skin than older people.

As skin dries out, the outer layer of dead cells tends to flake off, exposing the layers that are underneath. That means the nerves are closer to the surface. The nerves are what make people feel cold (gives the sensation of being cold).

The skin also has fewer dead skin cells to act as insulation to prevent heat from escaping to the outside. Older people may notice dust flying around when they take off socks or put them on. That dust is dead skin cells. House dust itself is comprised mostly of dead skin cells. Older people see their skin getting thinner as they spot skin cells flying off into the air.

Thinner skin exposes feet and hands to ambient (room) air, which is always cooler than body temperature. Heat, as is nature’s way, moves from a warmer place to a cooler place, so body heat in the feet and hands escapes through thin skin to the outside, making the person feel cold.

“I hate winter. I can’t stand the cold” is a refrain I have heard countless times from elderly people in the cold climate country where I live. Some who can afford it move south to a warmer country during the cold season. Others simply have to bundle up.

Remember that heat escapes quickly from thinner skin, so extra insulation on the parts of the body that get cold should be considered essential.

Note that the core of the body may not feel cold, may not be cold. Warming the whole body just to get the hands and feet warm may not be the wisest choice. Putting the house thermostat up could raise the body’s core temperature. Even a tiny rise in core temperature beyond what is normal for that body could have negative effects on health. Body cells and the immune system function best at a constant temperature.

In conclusion, older people feel cold easier than younger people, but the safest choice to make is to add insulation to the cold parts, not to warm the whole body beyond what is necessary.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a book of help for parents and teachers of young children. Feeling cold is not a social problem in the usual sense, but as the Baby Boomers reach retirement age, it will become a very common problem.
Learn more at http://billallin .com


“Old” Is A State Of Mind That Goes With An Unnecessarily Worn Out Body

“Old” Is A State Of Mind That Goes With An Unnecessarily Worn Out Body

The excesses of our youth are drafts upon our old age, payable with interest, about thirty years after date.
Charles Caleb Colton, English author and clergyman (1780-1832)


I admit it. I’m tired of hearing people say “Bill, I’m getting old.”

So many replies come to mind, but kindness causes me to refrain from saying “Yup, and you did it to yourself” or “If you only had known earlier, you could have been in better shape today.”

Several older ladies I see walking in malls or on sidewalks trudge along in ways I used to think of as “walking funny.” Why, I wondered, did they walk that way because it would be so much less effort to walk in a straighter, more upright manner. Then I learned, as I got older and suffered from fatigue more myself, that they walked that way because it was the least painful way to walk. Would they do some easy stretching exercises that would ease their arthritis pain and stretch the muscles they need to walk in an easier manner? No. “I hate exercises.”

Where I live now many men have survived eight decades of life and wonder how many more mornings they will wake up. Most will live another decade at least, as 90 is the average age people die in my area. Most wear hearing aids, though they claim they detest the things. Yet they continue to ride around on lawn tractors, run chainsaws and pilot tillers around their gardens without the benefit of hearing protection. (Men don’t wear sissy earmuffs.)

Little hairs in our ears, called cilia, get damaged from loud noise. When that happens the ear owners have ringing in their head that annoys them constantly as long as they are awake. The ringing, unlike their hearing, lasts forever. Those little hairs aren’t like whiskers. They function like amplifiers to “boost” incoming sound waves to a level the brain can understand. Damage or “blow out” those cilia and easily half of incoming sound is lost.

No matter, their sons who have moved to the city won’t worry about chainsaw, tractor and tiller noise damaging their hearing. They have loud music from ear buds they wear around for much of the day to do that job.

A former railway line now converted to a walking trail runs along one side of our property. In winter, our province licenses the trail to snowmobile organizations who groom it and enforce respectable use of the trail by their members when most folks find it too difficult to walk over the snow anyway. Motorized vehicles are forbidden from using the trail when the snow is gone. But men of all ages on all-terrain vehicles (ATVs, known locally as four-wheelers) ride the trail all summer anyway. Most drive slowly because of the uneven ground along the trail. It never occurs to them to walk and enjoy the scenery.

At the speed most move along the trail, hearing damage is unlikely from loud noise. When they get home, they rev their engines to ensure they are tuned and as responsive as possible. Good. But no hearing protection for engine noise at the same decibel level as a jet airplane. Bad. Really dumb.

A friend who is now retired doesn’t drive any more. He can’t see enough of the road ahead of him. He is blind in one eye and the other eye is sufficiently damaged, permanently, that he does a lot of guessing about what is in front of him. Damage to his sight resulted from many different incidents of improper welding practices. Yes, many incidents. He knows how to wear a welding helmet, and when. But so many times he didn’t bother, just looked away when he activated the welder flame. Oops! My friend hopes to convert a motorized wheelchair for use on the rail trail near his home. He could walk, but “Why?”

For most of human history our ancestors lived an average of 30 years. During that time their bodies suffered all manner of abuse, without balking. No one retired because the concept didn’t exist and because they simply didn’t live long enough. Now many of us subject our bodies and our senses to the same kinds of abuse our ancestors did, or worse (because we have the technology), then wonder many years later why we got “old” too soon.

Our bodies will suffer from abuse. Not necessarily when we are young and inclined to believe we are just stretching our abilities to the limits. The quote at the beginning of this article says we suffer thirty years later. In many cases, the number is 40 years. In some cases, it’s 20 years. Skin cancer, the most common variety of cancer, happens most often to people who suffered bad sunburns 20 to 40 years earlier.

Teens don’t die from smoking cigarettes or marijuana. But 30 or 40 years later they may wonder “Why me?” when some debilitating or terminal disease strikes them. My father spent the last months of his life on a ventilator when his lung cancer surgeon discovered so much tobacco tar had accumulated in his lung that my father could not breathe on his own with his remaining “three-quarters lung capacity.”

Food preservatives and additives are tested by manufacturers for up to three years. If they haven’t killed or harmed anyone in that time, they are usually approved for use in packaged food products. Pesticides and chemical fertilizers are used on “healthy” produce we find in markets, but we don’t know what effects they have on our bodies years later because they aren’t tested long–most for no more than a year.

Living longer is a grand thing that we should look forward to. But living sick or “old”? Not so much.

It may be too late for you, reading this article, to protect yourself from abuses you did to yourself in your youth. Maybe even from abuses you have ingested in your food over the past few years. But it’s not to late to teach our kids.

We need to teach children that abuse will affect their lives just as severely if they do it to themselves as if others do it to them. We need to teach them that they will not want to be “old” weak and dependent in the last decades of their lives.

The only way we can ensure that the message reaches every child is to teach it in school. That’s where you and I come in. Let’s talk it up and influence those who set school curriculum.

Let’s make sure that our kids are as healthy as we wish we were in our old age. Meanwhile, let’s make sure our own children and grandchildren know what we would like them to know.

Change begins with us.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents, grandparents and teachers who want to grow children who will live long, healthy and active lives.
Learn more at http://billallin.com