Does feeling cold in elderly indicate morbidity?

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Written By Dr. João Arthur Ferreira

MD, PhD. Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Physician from São Paulo - Brazil. Pain Fellowship in University of São Paulo.

  • It’s common for elderly people to feel colder more easily due to natural physiological changes that occur with aging. The body becomes less efficient at regulating temperature as we get older.
  • Feeling cold can be a sign of an underlying medical condition in the elderly, especially if it is a new symptom or the coldness is severe. Hypothyroidism, anemia, malnutrition, and cardiovascular disease can all cause increased cold sensitivity.
  • Shivering and feeling very cold may be signs of hypothermia in the elderly. Hypothermia occurs when core body temperature drops dangerously low. It requires emergency medical treatment.
  • Being underdressed for cold weather, living in a home that is too cold, and some medications like blood pressure medications can also increase cold sensitivity in the elderly.
  • Feeling cold despite warm conditions could indicate a fever or infection in the elderly. The hypothalamus malfunctions during fever and causes abnormal cold sensations.
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon causes coldness in the extremities when blood vessels suddenly constrict. It is common in the elderly.
  • Coldness localized to one side of the body or limbs can be a sign of blocked arteries or stroke. Seeking prompt medical attention is recommended.

Feeling cold is a common sensation experienced by people of all ages, but it can be particularly concerning when it affects the elderly population. For caregivers and healthcare professionals, understanding whether feeling cold in the elderly indicates morbidity is crucial for providing appropriate care and intervention. In this article, we will explore the potential causes and implications of feeling cold in the elderly, shedding light on this important topic.

Understanding the Physiology

Before diving into the potential morbidity implications, it is essential to grasp the physiological changes that occur in the aging process.

As individuals grow older, a natural decline in metabolic rate and reduced circulation can lead to a decrease in body temperature regulation. This decline may make older adults more prone to feeling cold, even in relatively warm environments.

These factors include:

  • Body fat: As people age, they tend to lose muscle mass and body fat. This can lead to a decrease in the body’s ability to retain heat.
  • Metabolism: Metabolism slows down with age. This means that the body produces less heat.
  • Blood flow: Blood flow to the skin decreases with age. This can make it harder for the body to lose heat.

Does Feeling Cold in Elderly Indicate Morbidity?

The answer to this question is not always clear. In some cases, feeling cold in elderly people may be a sign of a serious medical condition. However, in other cases, it may simply be a normal part of aging.

If an elderly person is feeling cold, it is important to talk to their doctor to rule out any underlying medical conditions. However, if the person is otherwise healthy and does not have any other symptoms, then feeling cold may simply be a normal part of aging.

Potential Causes of Feeling Cold in the Elderly

elderly cold hands

While feeling cold is not always indicative of underlying morbidity, it can sometimes serve as a warning sign for certain health conditions or situations. Let’s delve into some potential causes:

  1. Hypothyroidism: Hypothyroidism, a condition characterized by an underactive thyroid gland, can cause intolerance to cold temperatures. The thyroid gland plays a significant role in regulating body temperature, and decreased thyroid hormone levels can interfere with this process.
  2. Anemia: Anemia occurs when there is a deficiency of red blood cells or hemoglobin, leading to reduced oxygen transport to vital organs. Cold intolerance can often be an early symptom of anemia, as the body tries to prioritize oxygen delivery to critical areas.
  3. Poor Circulation: Aging can contribute to decreased blood flow and compromised microcirculation throughout the body. This reduced circulation can result in a decreased ability to distribute heat evenly, making the elderly more susceptible to feeling cold.
  4. Medication Side Effects: Certain medications commonly prescribed to the elderly, such as beta-blockers and vasodilators, can affect blood vessels and lead to feeling excessively cold. It is important to monitor medication side effects and discuss any concerns with a healthcare professional.

Understanding the Implications

While feeling cold alone may not directly indicate morbidity, it can be a potential sign of underlying health issues that require attention and intervention. Neglecting these signs may lead to further complications.

Caregivers and healthcare professionals should be vigilant and consider a comprehensive assessment when an elderly individual consistently reports feeling cold.

The Role of Preventive Measures

While it is crucial to investigate the potential causes of feeling cold in the elderly, incorporating preventive measures can significantly improve their comfort and well-being. Here are some strategies to consider:

  1. Adequate Clothing and Warmth: Encouraging the elderly to dress in layers and wear warm clothing, such as sweaters, socks, and hats, can help retain body heat. Additionally, maintaining a warm indoor environment and using blankets or heating devices can enhance their comfort.
  2. Regular Exercise: Regular physical activity can help improve blood circulation and overall cardiovascular health. Encourage the elderly to engage in gentle exercises or activities that suit their abilities. Consult with a healthcare professional to determine suitable exercise options.
  3. Nutritional Considerations: Proper nutrition plays a vital role in maintaining overall health. Ensuring that the elderly consume a balanced diet with an adequate intake of essential nutrients can contribute to their overall well-being and help optimize body temperature regulation.
  4. Regular Check-ups: Regular check-ups with healthcare professionals provide an opportunity to monitor the health status of the elderly. These appointments can help detect and address any underlying medical conditions that may contribute to feeling cold.


Feeling cold in the elderly can be a complex issue with various potential causes. While it does not always indicate morbidity, it can serve as a warning sign for underlying health conditions that may require attention.

Caregivers, healthcare professionals, and the elderly themselves should be observant and proactive in seeking appropriate medical advice and implementing preventive measures. By being vigilant and responsive, we can ensure the well-being and comfort of the elderly population.

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Physiatrist, M.D. Pain Center of University of São Paulo

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