Heat waves during already warm summer months and other unexpected warm weather can pose a threat to older adults’ safety. Exposure to extremely high temperatures impacts older adults, as a high percentage of heat-related deaths occur in people aged 55 and over. To help you or your older adult loved one stay safe, we’re outlining hot weather safety tips for seniors and the signs to look out for in heat-related health issues.
Hydration: What to drink and how much
Ensuring proper hydration is critical for regulating body temperature and staying healthy, especially in warmer weather. Make sure to drink enough water to prevent conditions such as heat exhaustion and dehydration. Here are some hydration tips to ensure sufficient fluid intake:
- The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine say that the amount of water a person should drink daily is about 91 ounces for women and 125 ounces for men.
- Older adults should consider drinking water more often to compensate for reduced thirst and other age-related issues that affect temperature regulation. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink.
- Noting urine color also can help identify whether you or your loved one is drinking enough water. Dark yellow urine typically means it is time to increase your water intake.
- Avoid alcoholic, caffeinated, and sugary drinks.
- Consider adding sports drinks that replace essential minerals and electrolytes.
- If you take medication that impairs fluid retention or thirst sensation, speak with a doctor about how to prepare for extreme heat.
Hot weather safety tips while inside the home
Even if you’re inside your house and out of the sun, you still need to take steps to stay cool. Some homes have air-conditioning, while others do not. It’s important to consider the climate in the home in all cases. Here are some tips to stay cool inside the home during hot weather:
- Plan to stay indoors in an air-conditioned area to help the body stay cool.
- If you don’t have central air-conditioning, installing window unit air conditioners can be a cost-effective method to cool the home. You can also use fans to help circulate the air.
- Avoid using the oven or stove as much as possible, as the added heat can raise temperatures throughout the home and strain your air conditioner.
- A cool shower or bath can lower and help maintain a safe body temperature.
- If you’re an older adult who lives in a senior living community or apartment and you begin to experience difficulties due to extreme heat, speak with a facility manager or caregiver about moving you to a cooler area.
If your home does not have air-conditioning or a power outage occurs, plan to travel to a cooler location, such as a relative’s house, public library, community center, or shopping mall, until the temperature inside the house returns to normal.
Safety tips for hot weather while you’re outside
If you or your loved one must go outside, try to limit outdoor activities to the late afternoon or evening to avoid the intense midday heat. Follow these tips for being outside in hot weather:
- Wear loose, lightweight clothing.
- If you engage in vigorous activity, pace yourself by starting slowly, and pay attention to how you feel.
- Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink more water. Dehydration can start before you experience thirst.
- Before leaving the house or planning outdoor activities, check the weather and local news for safety updates.
Hot weather affects seniors differently
Our natural responses to sensing heat and regulating body temperature change with age. For example, the number of activated sweat glands and the amount of sweat production decrease. Lowered blood circulation to the skin, which also happens with age, can make it difficult for older adults to regulate their body temperature.
Certain behaviors more common in older adults can also affect them in the heat. Though it’s especially important in hot weather, drinking enough fluids may be more of a challenge because of a lowered thirst response. Older adults also may be less sensitive to warm temperatures, and it might take longer for their bodies to respond to heat, even during physical activity.
Those with chronic conditions, like high blood pressure or heart disease, can have impaired organ functioning and nerve signaling. These issues can disrupt temperature regulation. The aging process coupled with chronic conditions can make it difficult to maintain an ideal body temperature during heat stress, increasing susceptibility to heat-related problems.
Warning signs of heat-related health issues
Prolonged exposure to high temperatures can lead to any of the following issues:
- Abdominal cramping.
- Kidney stones.
- Heat exhaustion.
- Severe dehydration.
It’s hard to avoid warm weather during the summer months, but heat-related health problems are preventable. Knowing the symptoms to look for is key to staying safe in the heat. You or your loved one may experience one of the following heat-induced conditions due to heat stress:
- Heat rash or sunburn. Look for small, red skin blisters or warm, red, painful skin.
- Heat cramps. You may experience muscle pain or spasms or excessive sweating during vigorous exercise.
- Dehydration. Symptoms include fatigue, dizziness, headache, confusion, dry mouth, dry skin, muscle cramps, light-headedness, low blood pressure, and rapid pulse and breathing.
- Heat exhaustion. Symptoms include dizziness, headache, thirst, irritability, rapid and weak pulse, heavy sweating, vomiting or nausea, decreased urination, and fainting.
- Heatstroke. Look out for nausea, dizziness, headache, hard and fast pulse, fainting, body temperature of 103oF (39.4oC) or higher, and red, hot, clammy, or dry skin.
Heatstroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and severe dehydration are dangerous health concerns that need to be addressed right away to avoid hospitalization or life-threatening situations. If you or your loved one experiences any of the signs or symptoms, seek medical help immediately.
Though hot weather may be unavoidable, you can prevent illness and injury by using these tips for staying cool inside and outside during warm months. Knowing how seniors are uniquely affected by hot weather and how to recognize heat-related health issues can keep you and your loved ones safe and healthy.