Senior Health

6/4/2024 | By Annie Tobey

Heat isn’t just uncomfortable – excess heat is dangerous, especially for seniors and people with health concerns. Hot temperatures can bring on heat exhaustion and heat stroke, both of which can be severe and life threatening. This summer is predicted to break records with high temperatures, but planning ahead can help you weather the summer heat.

Stifling temperatures have become more common because of climate change. This is true even in places known for moderate weather, which can be doubly dangerous since fewer homes have air conditioning.

Be prepared and be safe!

Risk factors for vulnerability to summer heat

Risk factors for heat-related illness include age, medical history, and medications.

Adults over age 65 are at a higher risk, as their bodies adjust to heat more slowly.

People with heart, lung, or kidney disease, alcoholism, diabetes, and other chronic diseases may be at a higher risk due to impaired temperature regulation. Those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias may be unaware of extreme temperatures and of how to protect themselves.

Certain medications, such as fluid pills and blood pressure medications, may lead to dehydration.

In addition, some older adults on fixed incomes might have limited resources for upgrading or replacing HVAC equipment, and energy costs can exacerbate affordability concerns.

Tips for staying safe during the summer heat

At home

  • If you live on your own, have an HVAC professional check the health of your cooling system.
  • Avoid using the oven or stove on hot days.
  • Cool down with wet rags, a shower, or a bath.
  • Keep blinds or curtains closed to keep out the hot sun.
  • Don’t rely on a fan as your primary cooling source during a heat wave.
  • Have a contingency plan in case you are without power or air conditioning – a relative, friend, libraries, shopping malls, or local social services or senior services organizations. Your health department may be able to help you locate an air-conditioned cooling center, too.

Out and about

Man outside in the summer heat.
  • Plan walks and other outings first thing in the morning or later in the evening.
  • Wear loose, light-colored clothing.
  • Carry hydration at all times, either water or an electrolyte hydration beverage.
  • Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat.

Related: Keep your pets safe in the summertime, too

Engage with others

Caregivers and friends can be your first line of defense against heat-related illness. They can help monitor your symptoms and make sure you’re sufficiently hydrated – especially during heat events in your area. They could also call your doctor or 911, if necessary.

However, if you are alone, don’t hesitate to reach for the phone if you suddenly feel unwell. Call 911 first, and then call a friend or neighbor.

In fact, checking on friends and neighbors periodically will make them less hesitant to do the same for you in the future.

After all, we’re all in this increasingly hot world together.

Parts of this article were taken from other Seniors Guide posts on the dangers of summer heat, including:

Annie Tobey

Seniors Guide editor Annie Tobey has been involved in publishing for more than three decades, editing magazines, creating hundreds of freelance articles for local and national publications, and publishing two books. Her first book, “For Any Young Mother Who Lives in a Shoe” (Judson Press, 1991), offered humor and guidance to parents of young children. More recently, “100 Things to Do in Richmond Before You Die” (Reedy Press, Sept. 1, 2023) gave Tobey the opportunity to share her love for her hometown of Richmond, Virginia.