Energy Tips for Seniors

Keep It Cool: Hot Weather Advice for Older People

The Facts

Older people are at high risk for developing heat-related illnesses because the ability to respond to summer heat can become less efficient with advancing years. Fortunately, the summer can remain safe and enjoyable for everyone who uses good, sound judgment. The temperature does not have to hit 100 for a person to be at risk for hyperthermia. Both an individual’s general health and/or lifestyle may increase the threat of a heat-related illness.

Risk Factors

Health factors wthat may increase hyperthermia risk include:

  • Age-related changes to the skin, such as poor blood circulation and inefficient sweat glands.
  • Heart, lung and kidney diseases, as well as any illness that causes general weakness or fever.
  • High blood pressure or other conditions that require changes in diet.
  • The inability to perspire caused by medications, including diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers and certain heart and blood pressure drugs.
  • Taking several medications for various conditions. It is important, however to continue taking all prescribed medication and to discuss possible problems with a physician.
  • Being substantially underweight or overweight.
  • Drinking alcoholic beverages.

Symptoms

Heat stress, heat fatigue, heat syncope (sudden dizziness after exercising in the heat), heat cramps and heat exhaustion are all forms of “hyperthermia,” the general name given to a variety of heat-related illnesses. Symptoms may include headache, nausea, muscle spasm and fatigue after exposure to heat.

Action

If you suspect someone is suffering from a heat-related illness:

  • Get the victim out of the sun and into a cool place, preferably one that is air-conditioned.
  • Offer fluids, but avoid alcohol ad caffeine. Water and fruit or vegetable juices are best.
  • Encourage the individual to shower, bathe or sponge off with cool water.
  • Urge the person to lie down and rest, preferably in a cool place.

Emergency

Heat stroke is especially dangerous for older people and requires emergency medical attention. A person with heat stroke has a body temperature above 104 degrees and may have symptoms such as confusion, combativeness, bizarre behavior, faintness, staggering, strong rapid pulse, dry flushed skin, lack of sweating, possible delirium or coma.

Lifestyle

Lifestyle factors can also increase risk, including extremely hot living quarters, lack of transportation, overdressing, visiting overcrowded places and not understanding weather conditions. Older people, especially those at special risk, should stay indoors on especially hot and humid days, particularly when there is an air pollution alert in effect.

For a free copy of the National Institute on Aging’s AgePage on hyperthermia and other important health information, please contact the NIA Information Center at 1-800-222-2225.