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Senior Wellness - Feeling Cold?

Dec 15, 2017 by Comfort Keepers of Riverside and Corona

It’s December now, and that means that the cold is only going to get worse. For some people, who are always cold, this means going the extra mile to prepare for ice-cold toes and incessant shivering. But, for other people, they can wear a light jacket over their t-shirt and call it good.

Here are some facts on how our bodies react to the cold, what affects our individual response, and theoretically how one could get used to the cold:

How Cold Affects The Brain

Here’s how we react when we feel cold:

  • First, our nerve cells feel the temperature difference, and send a signal to the brain.
  • The brain receives this response, and directs the blood vessels in the extremities to vasoconstrict. This means they restrict blood flow (this is why your fingers and toes get cold first!).
  • Additionally, we start to shiver in attempts to generate heat.

These are all involuntary reactions we have to the cold, all thanks to our brain. However, the severity of these responses varies per individual.

How Cold Affects Seniors

There are many characteristics involving our ability to handle the cold, such as:

  • Age. Generally, at the age of 60, our body’s ability to conserve heat and accurately sense the cold begins to degrade. This is why seniors are more subject to getting hypothermia than other age groups.
  • Sex. We know that sex does play a part in cold response, as hormones are involved. For example, women handle the cold differently during their menstrual cycles than not. In men, higher testosterone levels generally mean they’re more desensitized to the cold. Overall, women have better vasoconstriction and tend to have higher body fat percentages, too, implying they are built to handle the cold better than men. Women are more susceptible to developing Raynaud’s disease, though, which leads to incessantly cold fingers and toes.
  • Body stature. The more fat tissue someone has, the more protected they are against the cold.

Adapting to External Factors

For people like me who have Raynaud’s or other conditions that impair their ability to handle the cold, unfortunately not.

In theory, however, once someone is in an environment for a period of time, they begin to adapt to it. For example, if you reside in a polar region for a long time, you’ll begin to build a physiological tolerance to the cold.

Many people don’t willingly want to face the cold, though. They choose to bundle up and avoid it instead, and that is perfectly okay, too. However you choose to handle the winter weather, as long as you enjoy it, who cares how many layers you’re wearing?

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