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Seniors warned against lowering thermostats too far
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Older people risk developing a life-threatening condition if they lower their thermostats too far in an effort to save on home heating costs, health officials warn.
"Cold indoor temperatures can be dangerous for older people," says Dr. Richard Havlik of the National Institute on Aging.
Colder temperatures cause hypothermia by sending the body's temperature below 96 degrees Fahrenheit (35.5 Celsius). The normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 Celsius). That change of just a couple of degrees can have a devastating effect if not noticed quickly and treated properly.
Anyone who registers a temperature at or below 96 degrees needs emergency medical care.
Thermostats should be set no lower than 68 degrees
If that is not possible, rescuers can move the victim to a warmer location or wrap them in a warm blanket to stop further heat loss.
It is also possible for a healthy person to use their own body heat to keep a hypothermic person warm. Experts advise caregivers to avoid rubbing the skin too roughly when trying to get circulation going.
Those most at risk include older people who suffer from conditions such as arthritis, Alzheimer's disease and dementia, thyroid deficiency, stroke, and Parkinson's disease, or take medications such as tranquilizers, sleeping pills, or antidepressants.
Havlik suggests that people age 60 and older set their thermostat no lower than 68 degrees. If that is not possible, he suggests they dress warmly in layers or stay under an electric blanket.
Financial aid available
"With this winter's rising energy costs, everyone must exercise special vigilance in protecting themselves and others from hypothermia, a highly preventable condition," Havlik cautions.
Financial aid is available to elderly people on fixed incomes who are having trouble paying their heating bills. The federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provides federal funds to help eligible low-income households.
Almost three dozen states participate in the program. To apply for assistance, contact your local LIHEAP agency. A number of State LIHEAP offices provide toll free numbers for public inquiries. You also can contact your state or local energy agency or the local power or gas company for information on low-income fuel assistance.
For states without LIHEAP numbers call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116, a nationwide, directory-assistance service designed to help older persons and caregivers locate support resources.
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