When summer temperatures begin to soar, it is important to keep yourself and your loved ones safe in the heat. High temperatures and humidity affect older adults more severely for a number of reasons. People’s ability to notice changes in their body temperature decreases with age, certain health conditions like heart disease and poor circulation affect the body’s ability to adapt to higher temperatures, and some prescription drugs can contribute to dehydration.
Heat-related illnesses and death are preventable, so it’s important to be aware of the risks and signs of heat duress as well as what can be done to prevent them from happening. These tips are applicable to everyone, not just older adults.
Encourage seniors to drink plenty of water. Drink more water than usual and don’t wait until you feel thirsty. If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask your doctor how much you should drink while the weather is hot. Stay away from sugary drinks and avoid alcohol. Consider a sports drink which can help replace the salt and minerals you lose when sweating. If you are on a low-salt diet, talk with your doctor before drinking a sports beverage.
Wear Appropriate Clothing
Be sure to wear light weight, light colored, loose-fitting clothing. Clothing made of cotton or a sweat-wicking material (made to pull sweat away from your skin) is best. If you are venturing outside consider wearing a wide-brimmed hat, and remember the sunscreen.
Take it Easy & Stay Indoors
Avoid exercising and strenuous activity, especially outside. It is coolest in the morning and evening, so get any outdoor tasks or errands done before the mid-day heat begins to rise.
Turn on the Air-Conditioning
When the weather gets hot, turn the air on. While fans provide a nice breeze, they will not prevent a heat-related illness when temperatures are high. If you don’t have air conditioning, find someplace that does like the mall, department store, or library. During heat waves, many municipalities set up “cooling centers” for those without air conditioning to beat the heat. If you are unable to access an air-conditioned environment consider a cool bath or shower.
Keep an Eye on the Heat Index
Ever heard the phrase, “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity”. The heat index uses humidity and temperature to approximate how hot it “feels”. Since the body’s ability to cool itself through sweating is impaired with there is lots of moisture (humidity) in the air, it’s important to know not just the actual air temperature but the heat index as well.
Know the Warning Signs
There are two types of heat-related illnesses, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Muscle cramps are often the first sign of heat-related illnesses so pay attention to how you feel so you can take steps to cool down.
Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion
- Heavy sweating
- Cold, pale, or clammy skin
- Fast, weak pulse
- Nausea or vomiting
If you or a loved one have any of these symptoms, move to a cooler location immediately. Lie down, loosen clothing, and apply cool, wet cloths to as much of your body as possible. Keep hydrated by sipping water. If vomiting occurs and it doesn’t stop, seek medical attention immediately.
Symptoms of Heat Stroke
- High body temperature (above 103 F)
- Hot, red, dry or moist skin
- Rapid, strong pulse
- Possible unconsciousness
Heat stroke is a medical emergency, call 911 immediately. While you wait for help to arrive, move the person to a cooler environment if possible. Attempt to reduce body temperature with cool cloths or a cool bath. Do NOT give fluids.
Sometimes people don’t realize how hot it really is or that the heat is even affecting them. It’s important to use a “buddy system” to check in on high-risk friends, relatives, and neighbors. Be sure to check in twice daily during especially hot days.
If you know of someone who is having trouble handling the heat or has a need for other in-home assistance, you can request an Informational Visit online or by calling 800-924-2273.