Hot weather can be dangerous, and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to its effects. In fact, 12,000 Americans die annually from heat-related causes, according to a Climate Central report. More than 80% of victims are older than 60.
During the summer, older adults are at increased risk of heat-related illness, including heat exhaustion and heatstroke — a potentially fatal condition. Fortunately, by following a few simple precautions, and by learning about the risks associated with heat and elderly people, you can help keep your aging loved one safe all summer long.
The elderly are more vulnerable to heat for several reasons.
Heatstroke is the most severe heat-related illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It’s a medical emergency requiring fast treatment.
Heatstroke, sometimes referred to as sunstroke, occurs when the body can no longer manage its temperature. It’s defined as a rapidly increasing body temperature of more than 103 degrees Fahrenheit accompanied by neurological warning signs such as confusion, seizures, or loss of consciousness.
Symptoms of heatstroke in the elderly:
Heat exhaustion is milder than heatstroke, but it can progress to a heatstroke if left untreated. Heat exhaustion typically occurs after excessive sweating. It’s the body’s response to an extreme loss of salt and water.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion in the elderly:
If you notice your loved one exhibiting any of the symptoms listed above, follow these life-saving tips to deescalate a dangerous, heat-related situation:
If you suspect your loved one is experiencing heatstroke, follow these three steps:
Preparation is key to maintaining a healthy balance of fun and sun. Keep your loved one safe this summer by learning how to prevent heatstroke, heat exhaustion, and other heat-related illnesses.
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.
Make sure you’re choosing hydrating beverages:
Our free tool provides options, advice, and next steps based on your unique situation.
Avoid drinks that lead to dehydration:
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 allowing the body to cool more easily. Choose the following:
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. Stay cool inside and note the following tips:
While many people regularly check the outside temperature in their area, it can be helpful to reference weather reports that note the heat index and dew point as well. Many weather apps and websites will list the temperature as well as the “feels like” number, which 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 and the more you need to worry about your elderly loved one’s comfort. Note the following dew point ranges:
Remind your aging loved one that taking it easy in the summer can help their overall health and energy levels. When exposed to the sun, their body has to work overtime to keep cool. Heart and metabolic rates increase, too. This is why doing something as simple as sitting outside can leave them feeling fatigued.
When the humidity or dew point is high, it’s best to relax and avoid certain outdoor activities, such as exercise, gardening, lawn care, home repair, etc.
In addition to increasing fluid intake, there are many fruits and vegetables that can help keep your loved one nourished and hydrated, too. Have them readily available to enjoy as a snack, or serve them as a side dish with meals. You can even cut some of these options up and put them in water to infuse it with extra flavor.
Call or visit senior loved ones regularly during hot weather. Keep these considerations in mind:
Lastly, 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.
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Centers for Disease Control. Tips for Preventing Heat-Related Illness.
Cleveland Clinic. Drink Up: Dehydration is an Often Overlooked Health Risk for Seniors.
Climate Central. Seniors at Risk: Heat & Climate Change
CMAJ. Heat stress in older individuals and patients with chronic diseases. https://www.cmaj.ca/content/cmaj/182/10/1053.full.pdf
Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences. Dehydration and Cognition in Geriatrics: A Hydromolecular Hypothesis.
Journal of the American Medical Association. Heat Stroke.
National Institutes of Health. Heat-related health dangers for older adults soar during the summer.
Nutrients. Neurocognitive Disorders and Dehydration in Older Patients: Clinical Experience Supports the Hydromolecular Hypothesis of Dementia.
Rush. How the Body Regulates Heat.
World Health Organization. Information and Public Health Advice: Heat and Health.
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