This summer has been very hot, and it’s not over yet. Many places that don’t ordinarily experience extreme heat have had temperatures that would make even a seasoned desert-dweller wilt. While everyone should be taking care to follow summer heat safety tips, they are even more important for older adults. People over age 65, especially if they also have high blood pressure, heart problems, problems with circulation, or are overweight, are more susceptible than younger, healthier people to serious conditions caused by getting too hot.
The most important of all hot weather safety tips for older adults is to stay hydrated. Cool water is ideal. Avoid beverages with caffeine and alcohol, as they are both dehydrating. In very hot weather when you are sweating a lot, you’ll also want to replenish your electrolytes. Drinking Gatorade or other sports drinks will keep your electrolytes at their correct levels.
Other tips for seniors in the heat include being in air-conditioned spaces as much as possible. If you don’t have air conditioning in your home, consider heading to the mall for a walk. Or the library and read while staying cool. Movie theaters usually have great air-conditioning, so make a plan to go see a film with friends. You can also look up your area’s cooling centers, which are set up by local community groups and churches. Low-income seniors should also look into the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). This federal program helps adults age 65 and older pay for air conditioners and also offers utility bill assistance. Click the link above to find your state’s LIHEAP program or call 866.674.6327.
Older adults should time their outdoor activities for either the early morning, before 10 a.m. at the latest, or dusk. If you start to feel hot, wet a wash rag or other piece of cloth and drape it across the back of your neck. Cool compresses on your forehead and wrists can also help a lot. In addition to cool water and electrolyte drinks, having popsicles or ice cream on hand can be a mood booster on hot days. Wear loose, lightweight, light colored clothing both in your home and when you go out.
Choose breathable fabrics like cotton and linen. If your budget allows, check out moisture-wicking fabrics, which wick sweat away from your skin and keep you feeling cooler. If you do go out, be sure to wear sunscreen and a hat with a wide brim. Bring plenty of water and snacks. Taking cool baths or showers can help a lot to keep your body temperature regulated.
Sometimes the heat is too much for ordinary tips for seniors in the heat. There are four heat-caused conditions that merit immediate attention.
1. Dehydration. This is caused by not getting enough water. You may feel dizzy or weak, experience headaches or cramps, or even faint. An early warning sign of dehydration is the color of your pee. It should be a very light yellow. If it’s dark yellow or orange, drink some water or an electrolyte drink like Gatorade. Electrolytes regulate your heartbeat, so if you have a heart condition or diabetes, contact your doctor if you become dehydrated. People who take diuretics should also be very careful about staying hydrated.
2. Heat exhaustion. This condition can be very serious and is caused by too much heat and being dehydrated. It can also cause heat stroke (see the next point). Warning signs include feeling weak, dizzy, or unusually tired. You might sweat excessively or not at all. Your skin may be pale and feel cold and clammy. Headaches are another sign, as are nausea and vomiting, a pulse that is weak and fast, and fainting.
If you or someone else begins to experience any of these symptoms, move immediately into a cool, shady place and drink water or an electrolyte drink. If symptoms do not improve, or you have high blood pressure or heart disease, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.
3. Heat stroke. This is an extremely serious condition. It is caused by a rise in your body temperature and can build gradually over several days of too much heat.
Signs include a temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit, feeling dizzy or nauseated, vomiting. You can have a fast pulse, headache, and your skin may be dry, red, and hot.
In the event of any of the above symptoms, call 911 immediately. If at all possible, get to a cool, shady place. Pour cool water over yourself or put on clothing that’s been soaked in cool water. Another option is to put cloths soaked in cool water around your neck, and on your armpits, wrists and ankles. The goal is to lower your body temperature.
Drink water or an electrolyte drink if you can. If you are assisting someone with heat stroke, do not give them liquids if they are not fully conscious. Putting liquid in the mouth of someone who is faint can cause them to choke.
4. Heat syncope. With this condition, you will feel dizzy or faint because of high heat. Lie down with your feet elevated, and drink plenty of cool fluids. If you do not improve after these measures, call 911 or go to the nearest ER.
Be sure to check in on friends, family, and neighbors who are at higher risk of developing problems due to the heat. Ask them to do the same for you. Share our hot weather safety tips for older adults with everyone you know so we can all stay safe this summer.
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