Staying Safe in Hot Weather

Related topics: Health & Wellness

Enjoy the sun! But remember that seniors are at greater risk of heat-related illness.

Senior Woman Applying Sunblock

Senior Woman Applying Sunblock

At last we are coming into summer! After the especially cold temperatures experienced by some areas of the country this year, many of us appreciate the arrival of warmer weather. But this is a good time to remember that heat can be dangerous. 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. According to the Red Cross, in recent years, heat has caused more deaths in the U.S. than any other weather events, including tornadoes and floods.

Seniors can be at higher risk. As we grow older, our bodies are less efficient at regulating temperature. According to the National Institute on Aging, health factors that increase the risk include:
  • Age-related changes to the skin, such as poor blood circulation and inefficient sweat glands

  • Heart, lung and kidney diseases, as well as any illness that causes general weakness or fever

  • High blood pressure or other conditions that require changes in diet (for example, a salt-restricted diet)

  • The inability to perspire, caused by medications including diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers and certain heart and blood pressure drugs

  • Taking several drugs for various conditions

  • Being substantially overweight or underweight

  • Drinking alcoholic beverages

  • Being dehydrated.

Heat-Related Illness

Seniors and families should be aware of the symptoms of heat exhaustion, which include dizziness, weakness, nausea and heavy perspiration. If ignored, these symptoms can progress to a dangerous condition called heat stroke. The symptoms of heatstroke are:

  • Fainting

  • Body temperature over 104°

  • Confusion, staggering

  • Dry, flushed skin with no sweating

  • Strong, rapid pulse

  • Headache

  • Unconsciousness.

A person with heat stroke should be seen by a physician immediately! Other heat related conditions include heat cramps (a painful tightening of the muscles of the abdomen, arms or legs); heat edema (swelling of the ankles and feet); and heat syncope (a sudden dizziness and rapid pulse that usually occurs when someone is exercising in the heat).

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 yourself 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 about staying hydrated 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 the mall, a movie, the library. Many communities, social service agencies, religious groups and senior citizen centers also provide services such as cooling centers.

  • 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.

As past years have shown, heat waves hit seniors the hardest. Plan ahead for hot weather. Check on senior friends and relatives, especially those with no air conditioning in their homes. Encourage them to drink plenty of fluids, and take them to a cool place during the hottest hours of the day.

For More Information

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers information about preventing hot weather illness, including the article "Heat Stress in the Elderly."

See the Weather Channel website for information on extreme heat and what to do in a heat-related emergency.

Air conditioning saves lives—but raises electric bills. Some seniors may qualify for help from a federally funded program. See the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) website to learn more and to find out how to apply. And read on to the next article to find out how BenefitsCheckUp® can help seniors find help with energy bills and other benefits programs.

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