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February 1, 1980

Action needed to prevent deaths from hypothermia in the elderly

JAMA. 1980;243(5):407-408. doi:10.1001/jama.1980.03300310003001

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The phenomenon of people freezing to death, clinically known as accidental hypothermia, is demanding increased attention this winter from medical practitioners, the research community, and the general public.

At a hearing in Washington, DC, in late November, convened to draw attention to the energy needs of older people, the US Special Senate Committee on Aging and those attending the meeting of the Gerontological Society were alerted to new findings on hypothermia.

According to the findings, not only is there a substantial difference in mortality from hypothermia between the elderly and the rest of the population, but this difference is particularly dramatic in the case of those aged 75 years and older, for whom the risk of dying of exposure to cold is at least five times as great as for those younger than 75 years.

Furthermore, although the recorded death rates from hypothermia are relatively low as such things go,