Body temperature regulation in the elderly

On a nice spring or fall day, I’ll go out in shorts and a t-shirt if the weather is nice enough. As warm as the weather is, invariably I’ll see elderly people walking around in a winter coat, hat, and sometimes even scarves and gloves. This leads me to wonder why this happens. Do humans lose body temperature regulation as they get older?

Yes, some of us do.

I used to live near a building that housed patients with developmental problems, and I noticed exactly what the OP described. I believe it had to do with side effects of some drugs many of them were on. It was made more obvious, being on the boardwalk of a popular beach.

From age 58-on (I’m 59 now) I’ve noticed I’m becdmomng less tolerant of cold. A bit disconcerting, as I’ve no identified cardiac or circulatory problems.

The nervous system’s effectiveness at regulating body temperature is affected by heat stroke, stroke, brain injury, and aging. Mine got all jacked up by TBI, I often have to live like a lizard seeking warmth in winter and coolth in summer. Lately, in this bitch of a winter everybody seems to be having, I’ve discovered wrapping a light woolen shawl about my neck, chest, and shoulders helps to stabilize my temperature. Just like a little old man, oh no…

I’m 74 and I’ve noticed that I wear long pants and a polo shirt when teenagers are wearing “hoodies” or thick T-shirt tops, but I suppose that’s a fashion statement for them. In cold weather I wear a light jacket (I don’t have an overcoat) but bear in mind it never gets very cold in Melbourne anyway.
I must admit that shortly after my bypass operation I was taking a bucket load of drugs for a few months and felt REALLY cold, so much that I slept wearing a track suit and thick dressing gown while in bed.

I see this a lot as well and I do believe it has something to do with age. Good circulation to the extremities are really important for temp regulation. After my husband had his bypass operation, he was also really cold (in Houston). I could tell how he was feeling by how many layers of clothes he was wearing. He’s back to shorts and t-shirts now.

There are a number of reasons that elderly people may have trouble maintaining their core temperature.

Many older people have some degree of impairment in their ability to constrict their blood vessels when they’re cold, i.e. normally, one way to conserve heat is to constrict the vessels in the skin in order to lessen heat loss from the surface of the body. The opposite occurs when you’re getting too hot - you dilate the skin blood vessels in order to give off heat (and that’s why you look red and flushed when you’re overheated).

The sympathetic nervous system (the one that releases adrenalin) is necessary to generate heat. Its activity is often diminished in the elderly and, thus, so is their ability to maintain their body temperature.

In addition, some elderly folks simply have diminished muscle mass and thus don’t shiver as effectively when cold.

I’m rapidly approaching 60, and have been wondering about this. For me personally, it’s as though my “acceptable temperature range” is shrinking. My tolerance for both heat and cold is lessening as years pile up. In my youth I worked on the Arctic Circle in February, and in the Sonoran Desert in July. Nowadays that would be impossible. I can barely tolerate winter in Texas.

KarlGuass explained the cold intolerance pretty well, but I wonder what causes the heat intolerance?

This is exactly how I feel. I’ve joked with people that my comfort zone is now between 74 and 76, and I’m miserable otherwise.

My husband is in his mid 70s and wears insulated leather gloves in the house almost every day except in August. He is sitting in the other room now with his gloves and a light down jacket on, with a blanket covering his legs. Yes, we have central heat, but he is always cold.

Much the same thing: blood circulation is important to the body’s cooling system also, and that is frequently compromised by age. Sweating removes heat from the body surface, thus cooling the blood near there, then that blood circulates and cools the body core (heart, brain), which is the most critical area.