Throughout the long, cold winter, we enthusiastically anticipated the warmth of summer. What a relief to finally throw open the windows and allow the warm breezes to blow through the house! Yet now that we’re approaching the dog days of summer, it is necessary to take preventative measures to make certain older adults in particular remain safe from heat-related illness.
Why Heat & Humidity Impact Seniors Differently
We know that children can spend hours playing outside in the summer, hardly breaking a sweat. Young adults are out gardening, mowing the lawn, even jogging despite humidity and high temperatures. For seniors, however, there are physiological differences that dramatically boost the risk for dangerous health problems as soon as the weather heats up. Poor circulation, chronic illnesses, inefficient sweat glands, medications, and more are common in aging, and can lead to a variety of heat-related illnesses, including:
- Heat stroke
- Heat edema
- Heat syncope
- Heat cramps
- Heat exhaustion
- And more
Signs to Watch for
Look out for these symptoms anytime a senior you love spends time in the heat:
- A body temperature above 104 degrees Fahrenheit (indicating heat stroke)
- Confusion, agitation, and other behavioral changes
- Delirium or coma
- Flushed, dry skin
- A rapid, strong pulse
- Lack of sweating
How to Help
As soon as you notice any of these warning signs, the senior needs immediate medical attention. Call 911 and have the senior lie down in a cooler environment. Place a cool, damp cloth on the senior’s neck, wrists, armpits, and groin. If at all possible, have the senior sip on water or juice, but nothing with caffeine or alcohol. A spray bottle containing cold water can also be used to mist your senior loved one.
The best course of action, however, is prevention. Following these tips can help older adults avoid heat-related illness and safely enjoy the summertime:
- Stay in an air-conditioned environment as much as possible, particularly during the hottest parts of the day. Outdoor activities can be planned during the early morning or evening.
- Be sure the older adult stays hydrated. Plain water in addition to carbohydrate-electrolyte beverages (like Gatorade) are best.
- When outdoors, seek out shaded locations and avoid over-exertion.
- Choose light-colored clothing in breathable materials, such as cotton or linen, together with a wide-brimmed hat.
- Always wear sunscreen.
- Make sure seniors are drinking an abundance of fluids
- Take care of meal preparation, housework, and other chores around the home
- Provide transportation to enjoyable, air-conditioned excursions such as museums, the mall, or the library
- Engage in enjoyable activities at home, such as arts and crafts and favorite hobbies and interests
- And many others