Seniors’ bodies don’t cope as well with heat as younger people’s bodies do, making them more vulnerable to all sorts of heat-related illnesses. With Spring quickly approaching, we’re shining a light on the potential hazards of the hotter months and discussing what older adults can do to protect themselves.
Seniors are vulnerable to heat for multiple reasons. The first is that as we age, our body’s ability to sweat and regulate our body temperature decreases. Some elderly people also have chronic health conditions that affect their ability to cope successfully with heat. Heart, lung, and kidney diseases increase your risk of heat-related illnesses.
Many seniors don’t experience the urge to drink as frequently, which can cause them to forget to hydrate. This may lead to dehydration or more heat-related severe illnesses if not caught and addressed early.
Hot Weather Safety Tips for Seniors
Wondering how to keep yourself or an elderly loved one safe in warmer months? Here are some hot weather safety tips for seniors:
Avoid direct sun exposure.
Direct sun exposure can cause you to become overheated and lead to sunburn. Stay inside between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to minimize your exposure during the hottest parts of the day. Seek out shade if you must be outside while the sun is shining. Apply sunscreen with a protection level of at least SPF 30 to whatever skin isn’t covered by fabric and reapply every two hours to help guard against sunburn.
Seek out air conditioning.
In the midday heat, fans usually aren’t enough to cut it when you’re trying to beat heat stroke. If your home has air conditioning, don’t be afraid to run it. If that isn’t a possibility, then go to public places that do have air conditioning during the hottest parts of the day. Malls, libraries, and senior centers are all great options that are usually free.
Take other steps to cool down your home.
To help reduce your electric bill and lower the temperature of your house, you should also take other steps beyond just running the AC. Keep your blinds and curtains closed to stop the sun from heating your home. If you have fans, running them can help circulate the cool air from the AC and lower the temperature.
Cool down with water.
Water is a great way to cool down when you feel the heat getting to you. Cold packs like reusable gel pouches, a bag of frozen peas, or frozen plastic water bottles can quickly drop your body temperature. A cold sponge bath or shower before bed will help you cool down and drift off to sleep faster.
Stay hydrated with water.
When it comes to staying hydrated, water is your best friend. Because seniors don’t usually get thirsty, you probably need to drink more water than you feel like you do.
Consider skipping outdoor activities.
During the hottest months of the year, it’s usually best to stay inside as much as possible and avoid the outdoors. If you absolutely must go out, time your outing at the beginning of the day, when the temperatures are coolest.
Watch the weather reports.
Temperatures often vary daily, sometimes by a significant number of degrees. Check your local weather reports to see which days of the upcoming week are predicted to be the coolest, and schedule your activities for those days.
Act fast when you don’t feel well.
Heat-related illnesses can progress quickly if you don’t act fast. If you feel the first signs of dehydration or heat exhaustion, immediately stop what you are doing and find someplace air-conditioned to rest and hydrate.
Signs of Heat-Related Illness
There are many different stages of potential heat-related illnesses. They usually start milder before progressing to more severe and potentially even life-threatening. Here are the signs and symptoms of five heat-related conditions to watch out for:
Dehydration refers to a loss of water from the body. Symptoms include muscle cramps, headache, weakness, dizziness, confusion, and even passing out. Drinking sufficient water fortified with electrolytes will help to prevent dehydration or treat a mild form of it.
Heat exhaustion occurs when dehydration is coupled with high temperatures. It may lead to heat stroke if left untreated. Symptoms include muscle cramps, weakness, tiredness, paleness, dizziness, headaches, nausea, vomiting, either heavy sweating or no sweating, cold and clammy skin, fast and weak pulse, and fainting. If you think you are experiencing heat exhaustion, immediately move somewhere cold and shady and begin drinking water.
Heat edema is swelling in the lower body caused by high temperatures. It is especially common in the feet and ankles. Wearing compression socks can help prevent edema, and elevating your feet on a pillow will allow the fluids to drain back toward your torso and reduce swelling.
Heat stroke refers to a dangerous and potentially fatal rise in body temperature. It may be sudden or occur gradually over several days. Heat stroke officially occurs when your body temperature goes beyond 104 degrees Fahrenheit (anything between 98.6 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit is considered heat exhaustion). If you or an elderly loved one is experiencing heat stroke, call 911 immediately.
Heat syncope is fainting due to high temperatures. It may be preceded by dizziness or it may be more sudden. If you feel faint, lie down with your feet elevated and drink plenty of water to see if the dizziness subsides.