Hot weather is dangerous, and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to its effects. In fact, a recent research brief by Climate Central found that 12,000 Americans die annually from heat-related causes. More than 80% of victims are older than 60.
Fortunately, by following a few simple precautions, and learning the symptoms of heat stroke and heat exhaustion, you can help keep seniors safe all summer long.
Heat strokes are the most severe heat-related illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They’re a medical emergency requiring fast treatment. Heat exhaustion is milder, but it can progress to a heat stroke if left untreated.
Heat strokes occur when the body can no longer manage its temperature. It’s defined as a temperature of more than 104 degrees Fahrenheit with neurological signs such as confusion, seizures, or loss of consciousness.
Heat exhaustion typically occurs after excessive sweating. It’s the body’s response to an extreme loss of salt and water.
Knowing the symptoms of heat strokes and heat exhaustion can help you recognize when help is needed.
Heat stroke symptoms include:
Heat exhaustion symptoms include:
Follow these life-saving tips to deescalate a dangerous, heat-related situation.
If someone is having a heat stroke:
If someone is suffering from heat exhaustion:
The elderly are more vulnerable to heat for several reasons.
Preparation is key to maintaining a healthy balance of fun and sun. Keep your loved one safe this summer by learning how to prevent heat strokes, heat exhaustion, and sunburns.
Dehydration in seniors is the root of many heat-related health problems. It removes important salts and minerals from the body.
Dehydration can cause dizziness, fatigue, headaches, and other health issues for seniors. Severe or long-term dehydration can lead to hospitalization, bladder infections, kidney stones, and more.
A few hydrating drinks to consume include:
Avoid drinks that lead to dehydration, such as:
It’s important to choose your clothing carefully when it’s hot outside. This seemingly small decision can make a huge difference. Your clothes and even accessories like umbrellas can help you prevent sunburns and heat exhaustion by staying cooler.
The best clothing and accessories for summer include:
During periods of extreme heat, the best time to be outdoors is before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m., when the temperature tends to be cooler.
Some of the best ways to beat heat inside are:
While many people regularly check only the outside temperature in their area, it can be helpful to reference weather reports to view the heat index and dew point as well.
Many weather apps and websites will list the temperature as well as the “feels like” number. It factors humidity and temperature to approximate how the weather really feels.
A high dew point means there’s more moisture in the air, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). The higher the dew point, the muggier it feels.
The dew point ranges are:
Remembering to take it easy in the summer can help seniors’ overall health and energy levels. When exposed to the sun, your body works overtime to keep cool. Your heart and metabolic rates increase, too. This is why you may feel fatigued even when simply sitting outside.
When the humidity or dew point is high, it’s best to relax and avoid:
In addition to increasing your fluids, many different kinds of fruits and vegetables can keep your body nourished and hydrated, too. Eat them as a snack, or have them as a side dish with your next meal. You can even cut some up to infuse your water and add extra flavor.
Incorporate these healthy suggestions from the Hydration Foundation to boost your vitamin and water intake.
Hydrating fruits include:
Hydrating vegetables include:
Call or visit senior loved ones regularly during hot weather. Keep these considerations in mind:
If your loved one is struggling to pay utility or cooling bills, the National Council on Aging has a list of energy assistance programs. The Low-Income Energy Assistance Program specifically helps seniors with energy and cooling costs.
Merritt Whitely is an editor at A Place for Mom. She developed health content for seniors at Hearing Charities of America and the National Hearing Aid Project. She’s also managed multiple print publications, blogs, and social media channels for seniors as the marketing manager at Sertoma, Inc.