Dr. James Lipton, Associate Professor of Physiology and Neurology at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical School at Dallas said "Older people must be warned that they may not sense the cold as easily as younger people do and that their capacity to regulate body temperature is reduced. It is very difficult to explain to older people that their bodies may be cold even though they feel comfortably warm." If they fail to make allowances, the elderly put themselves in jeopardy and the result may be accidental hypothermia - a potentially fatal drop in the deep body or core temperature.
Dr. Lipton has been researching temperature regulation in animals and man for more than 10 years. He recently received a three- year, $100,000 grant from the National institutes of Health to study the effects of aging on the body's central temperature controls.
Dr. Lipton cited a survey done in the winter of 1972 in Great Britain. The British researchers found that 75 percent of the homes of their country's elderly population had room temperatures below 65 degrees, the minimum recommended by the Ministry of Housing. They also found large numbers of old people with low deep body temperatures.
"What happens in Britain is the pensioners there are trying to save money so they turn down their heaters," the Dallas researcher explained. "I'm sure the same thing happens here in the United States, with so many older folks on fixed incomes and utility costs skyrocketing."
He said part of the danger is that the elderly are prone to illness and injury. "If they live alone and they get sick or happen to fall and break a hip or something, they have placed themselves in a cold environment where the heat loss from their bodies is very rapid. They may lose consciousness and die within a few hours."
Drinking alcohol tremendously accelerates the loss of body heat, he continued. In the study he just began, Dr. Lipton is looking into the effects of alcohol and certain other drugs commonly taken by the elderly, including morphine, Imipramine hydrochloride and chlorpromazine (both tranquilizing drugs that are widely prescribed for the elderly), and salicylates, pyrazalones, and related drugs. All of these drugs have effects on body temperature control in adult warm-blooded animals.