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7 Easy Tips to Avoid Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion in the Elderly

Merritt Whitley
By Merritt WhitleyJune 26, 2020

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.

What is heat stroke and heat exhaustion?

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.

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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.

What are the symptoms of heat stroke and heat exhaustion?

Knowing the symptoms of heat strokes and heat exhaustion can help you recognize when help is needed.

Heat stroke symptoms include:

  • Body temperature of 104 degrees or more
  • Red, hot, or dry skin with no sweat
  • Rapid pulse
  • Dizziness or confusion
  • Unconsciousness

Heat exhaustion symptoms include:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Paleness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fainting

What to do in case of heat exhaustion or heat stroke

Follow these life-saving tips to deescalate a dangerous, heat-related situation.

If someone is having a heat stroke:

  1. Seek emergency help
    Call 911 or take them to a hospital. A delay in treatment can be fatal or cause irreparable damage.
  2. Cool them off
    While you’re waiting for help to arrive, take them to a cool area. Remove unnecessary clothing and apply ice packs or cold compresses to their body.
  3. Avoid giving too much liquid or aspirin
    The majority of heat stroke sufferers are in an altered state of consciousness, which can make it hard to drink or swallow safely. If they’re able to drink, help them drink a little — but act carefully. Do your best to keep them cool and conscious until help arrives.

If someone is suffering from heat exhaustion:

  1. Cool them off
    Take them to a cool area and place cold compresses on their neck, face, and head.
  2. Remove clothing
    Remove socks, shoes, or anything that could make them feel hotter.
  3. Provide cool water
    Encourage them to take consistent sips.
  4. Seek help if needed
    Call for medical assistance if symptoms get worse or don’t subside.

Why does the heat affect the elderly more?

The elderly are more vulnerable to heat for several reasons.

  • The ability to notice changes in your body temperature decreases with age
  • Many seniors have underlying health conditions that make them less able to adapt to heat
  • Many medicines seniors take can contribute to dehydration
  • Seniors may not feel the urge to drink and can forget to hydrate

The best summer heat safety tips for seniors

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.

1. Drink plenty of liquids to avoid dehydration in seniors

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:

  • Water
  • 100% juice drinks, like pure orange juice or apple juice
  • Sports drinks high in electrolytes 

Avoid drinks that lead to dehydration, such as:

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeinated drinks

2. Wear appropriate clothes to prevent heat exhaustion

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:

  • Light-colored clothes
  • Lightweight fabrics or materials
  • Loose-fitting clothes
  • Hats or sunglasses

3. Stay indoors during midday hours

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:

  • Close your windows and blinds during the day
  • Take cool baths or showers
  • Sleep in your coolest room and use light linens
  • Turn off artificial lighting and electronics

4. Pay attention to the heat index and dew point

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:

  • Less than or equal to 55: Comfortable or dry
  • Between 55 and 65: Muggy or sticky
  • Greater than or equal to 65: Very hot and damp

5. Take it easy and avoid heat exposure

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:

  • Outdoor exercise
  • Chores
  • Strenuous activities

6. Eat healthy and hydrating foods

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:

  • Watermelon
  • Strawberries
  • Grapefruit
  • Pineapple
  • Starfruit

Hydrating vegetables include:

  • Cucumbers
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Celery
  • Radishes
  • Zucchini

7. Check in regularly with elderly loved ones

Call or visit senior loved ones regularly during hot weather. Keep these considerations in mind:  

  • Check whether they’re drinking water and staying hydrated
  • Offer to pick up their favorite beverages or hydrating foods if they’re running low
  • See how much time they spend outside. Do they use sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses?
  • Make sure they have air-conditioning or fans

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.


Sources:

Merritt Whitley
Author
Merritt Whitley

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.

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