May 27th is National Heat Awareness Day. With summer approaching and temperatures rising, it’s important to know how to protect yourself. Seniors are particularly vulnerable to high temperatures and heat. We’re here with tips on how to enjoy the warm summer weather while keeping yourself safe.
Heat and Older Adults
Heat can be particularly dangerous for older adults. This population can have a harder time coping with and responding to high temperatures and humidity. Because of this, older adults are at a high risk of heat-related illness, also known as hyperthermia. There are different types of hyperthermia. These include heat exhaustion, heat edema which involves swelling in your ankles and feet, heat syncope which involves sudden dizziness after exercising in the heat, heat cramps, and heat stroke. Heat stroke is a particularly dangerous form of hyperthermia that occurs when the body becomes overwhelmed by the heat and cannot regulate its temperature.
Many of the health problems that accompany aging can increase a person’s risk of problems from heat. Diseases such as lung, heart, and kidney disease and illnesses that cause fever or weakness can increase a person risk of heat illness. Changes to the skin, including inefficient sweat glands and poor blood circulation can also put someone at higher risk. Side effects from medications, including reduced ability to sweat, increase risk as well. High blood pressure and diet-related changes that accompany this diagnosis, such as a low salt diet, can also make someone more susceptible to heat-related illness. Other risk factors for heat-related illness include being underweight or overweight, drinking alcohol, and dehydration.
Signs of Heat-Related Illness:
Learning to recognize heat-related illness can help you and those around you. Signs include:
- Dry and flushed skin
- A strong and quick pulse
- Lack of sweating
- Changes in behavior, including confusion, combativeness, delirium, staggering, and coma
How To Protect Yourself
There are many ways to protect yourself from hyperthermia. Find a cool place that is out of the sun to rest. An indoor place with air conditioning is ideal for this purpose. Senior centers or libraries can be good places to cool down. Make sure to stay hydrated by drinking lots of fluids such as water or juice. Avoid drinking alcohol and caffeine. Life down and rest in a cool place that is out of the sun. Try wearing light-colored and loose fitting clothing made of natural, breathable fabric. Avoid using the stove or oven to cook, as this will only increase temperatures inside your home.
If you cannot cool down, talk to a doctor or visit a medical facility for treatment. If you have symptoms of heat stroke, including changes to behavior, dry and flushed skins, a strong fast pulse, and a lack of sweating, you should call 911. If you have a caregiver, make sure that your caregiver knows the signs of heat-related illness and understands how to help you if you call ill.
To learn more about heat related illness and older adults, click on these links.