Summer temperatures can pose a danger to older adults. Working or playing in the sun, spending time in an unventilated home, or sitting in a closed vehicle can result in uncomfortable and even dangerous temperatures.
As we grow older, our bodies are less efficient at regulating temperature. Especially at risk are people with health problems such as cardiovascular disease, kidney or lung problems, unhealthy body weight, or those who take certain medications that interrupt the body’s ability to protect itself by perspiring. Other risk factors include: age-related changes to the skin, including inefficient sweat glands; being substantially overweight or underweight; and dehydration.
Here are some tips for staying safe and comfortable during periods of higher heat:
- Drink plenty of fluids, even if you don’t feel thirsty. On hot days, the body loses moisture more rapidly, so keep hydrated with water or fruit juice. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which cause the body to lose more fluid. (If you are on a fluid-restricted diet, speak to your healthcare provider during periods of heat.)
- Keep your home comfortable by letting in cool air during the early morning and evening hours. Create cross-ventilation by opening windows on two sides of the building. Use fans to circulate cooler air. Close curtains and blinds during the warmest hours.
- Take a break at an air conditioned location during the hottest part of the day. Go to the mall, a movie, the library.
- Dress for the weather. Wear short-sleeve, loose-fitting garments. Natural fibers and light colors are cooler than synthetic materials and dark colors. And don’t forget your sun hat!
- Exercise and work outside only during the cooler hours of the day, and pace your activities.
- Wear sunblock when you are outdoors. Sunburn reduces the body’s ability to regulate heat.
Hyperthermia is the name for a variety of heat-related illnesses that can include:
- Heat cramps (a painful tightening of the muscles of the abdomen, arms or legs)
- Heat edema (swelling of the ankles and feet)
- Heat syncope (a sudden dizziness and rapid pulse that usually occurs when someone is exercising in the heat)
If ignored, these conditions can progress to a dangerous condition called heat stroke. The symptoms of heatstroke are:
o Body temperature over 104
o Confusion, staggering
o Dry, flushed skin with no sweating
o Strong, rapid pulse
A person with heat stroke should be seen by a physician immediately!
The National Institute on Aging provides five tips on what to do if you suspect someone is suffering from a heat-related illness:
- Get the person out of the sun and into an air-conditioned or other cool place.
- Offer fluids such as water, fruit and vegetable juices, but avoid alcohol and caffeine.
- Encourage the individual to shower, bathe or sponge off with cool water.
- Apply a cold, wet cloth to the wrists and/or neck, places where arterial blood passes close to the surface and the cold cloths can help cool the blood.
- Urge the person to lie down and rest, preferably in a cool place.
For More Information
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers information on staying safe during periods of extreme heat.
The Weather Channel website issues alerts for periods of high heat, and includes heat safety and preparedness resources.