Ask the expert


Cold hands and why we feel colder when we're older

My mother is 88 and always telling me she is cold and her hands are always cold. Is there a reason for this?

13 August 2019

Our bodies are designed to regulate our temperature. When it's cold outside, your body makes sure to keep the blood flowing to your core and vital organs such as your heart liver and kidneys to keep them warm. This can change the amount of blood flow to your hands and feet, making them feel cold. The blood vessels in your hands and feet constrict when it is cold to prevent heat loss from your core.

As we get older our circulation can be affected by peripheral arterial disease (PAD) which occurs when arteries become narrowed or blocked as plaque gradually forms inside artery wall. PAD affects our circulation and can interfere with the temperature regulating process.

The elderly are particularly vulnerable when it is cold, as they can lose heat faster than when they were young. Changes that can happen when we age can also make it harder for us to realise we are getting cold.

As we age our metabolism slows down, leading to decreased energy and if we have low energy we feel cold. Additionally, some elderly people become less active and develop poor diets which make them lose weight. Without adequate fat reserves they have less insulation, which can be a cause of feeling cold. If they aren’t as active they are not elevating their metabolism and this can lead to them feeling cold.

So we can see the elderly have slower metabolisms, they don’t produce enough heat from their own body, they are also frequently affected by poor circulation and are thus prone to cold hands, feet and extremities.

This is why it is difficult for them to feel warm and why it is important to know how to keep them warm, both indoors and outdoors.

Some forms of thyroid disease can also result in the sensation of cold hands and feet. Low blood pressure, diabetes and anaemia may also cause your mother’s symptoms. In order to establish the exact cause I suggest you visit her GP and discuss your concerns with them as she may need further investigations such as blood tests.

Meanwhile using a warm wheat bag or heat pad may help to reduce any discomfort she may have, and ensuring she is warmly dressed as appropriate to the weather are all simple measures that may help to alleviate the problem in the meantime.

Answered by Health at Hand team.

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