Senior Health

As we get older, our bodies are less adaptable to changes in temperature. This is one reason why most people who die of hyperthermia (the general term for several illnesses related to being too hot for too long) are over 50. Seniors are also more likely to have an underlying medical condition, like high blood pressure or a heart, lung, or kidney condition, that make them more sensitive to heat. Some prescription medications also affect the body’s ability to sweat, which is a vital part of our natural cooling system.

People with a cognitive condition, like Alzheimer’s or other dementia, are especially vulnerable to the heat, because they might not even realize they’re overheating. As Dr. Michael Fitch, professor of emergency medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, reminds us, “A person with dementia or another chronic medical condition may not even be aware of being thirsty or feeling overheated.” Here are a few ways to make sure you and your loved ones stay safe in the summer heat.

Drink Plenty of Fluids

Water, fruit or vegetable juices, and sports drinks will hydrate you and help keep your body cooler. Avoid drinks that contain caffeine or alcohol. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink.

Avoid Being Outside in the Heat of the Day

The coolest part of the day happens early, from four to seven in the morning. If you have to be outdoors or doing strenuous activity, do it then. On very hot days, the safest place to be is indoors, in an air conditioned building. If you don’t have air conditioning and start to feel overheated, take a cool bath or shower. To keep the house as cool as possible, avoid using the stove and oven too much during really hot weather.

Dress for the Heat

Loose, lightweight clothing is best on very hot days. If you have to be outdoors, light colors are better at reflecting the rays of the sun than dark colors, which absorb the heat.

Know the Signs

There are a few different heat-related conditions to watch out for. Heat exhaustion results in heavy sweating, cold and clammy skin, paleness, tiredness, and dizziness. If someone is experiencing these symptoms, move them to a cool place and loosen their clothing. Place cool cloths on them, and let them sip water. Get medical help if they are throwing up or if their symptoms get worse.

Heat stroke is a more serious condition and requires emergency medical attention. It can be fatal if ignored. Someone with heat stroke has hot, dry skin and a body temperature of over 103. They may also feel dizzy and confused, have a fast, strong pulse, and may lose consciousness. If someone is experiencing the symptoms of heat stroke, call 911. Then move them to a cool place, loosen their clothes, and put cool, wet cloths on them or help them take a cool bath. Do not give someone with heat stroke anything to drink.

Check in on Your Loved Ones

When the temperature soars, call and check in on older neighbors and friends. Make sure they have somewhere cool to go if they don’t have air conditioning. Sometimes you might not even realize you’re getting too hot or thirsty, so have someone do the same for you if extreme heat is in the weather forecast. The National Weather Service announces extreme heat with their Excessive Heat Outlooks, Watches, and Warnings. Your local weather service most likely does the same.