Summers are a time when everyone should take extra precautions to avoid the heat. As heat waves roll in and temperatures climb, it’s particularly important to consider how the elderly might be affected.
Our bodies respond differently to hot weather as we age, so seniors and caregivers need to understand the potential dangers of extreme heat exposure on older adults.
Some of the possible concerns and complications of exposure to the high heat of summer include dehydration, heat stroke, and even death. Dehydration can cause confusion, dizziness, and nausea. Heat stroke caused by prolonged exposure to high temperatures and humidity can cause organ damage and failure, and can be fatal.
In this blog post, we’ll look at the effects of the summer heat on the elderly population, explore the signs of heat intolerance in older people, and provide tips on how they can stay cool and healthy during warmer months.
Read on for more information!
How Does The Heat Affect The Elderly?
When exposed to prolonged heat, the elderly are more susceptible to dehydration and heat-related illnesses, like heat stroke. Their bodies aren’t as efficient at regulating their internal temperature, which makes them vulnerable to extreme temperatures.
As a result, they can easily become disoriented in hot weather. They also might be dizzy or nauseous and be unable to think clearly due to dehydration.
In addition, some seniors have chronic medical conditions or other health problems that can put them at an even greater risk for serious problems during the high temperatures of summer.
These include conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes, that make it more difficult for the body to regulate its temperature normally.
Other risk factors include age-related changes in skin integrity and blood circulation, medications that can interfere with body temperature regulation, and possible limited access to air-conditioning.
Older bodies also hold more heat than younger ones when the temperature climbs. Glands don’t release as much sweat. The heart doesn’t circulate blood as well, so less heat is released from vessels in the skin.Harvard Medicine
Older adults are also at greater risk of suffering from heat-related illnesses because they may not recognize their thirst signals or be able to get the water or electrolytes they need to stay hydrated.
In his 90s, my father used to swear he wasn’t thirsty, when I knew for a fact he’d only had a cup of coffee with breakfast and nothing else that morning (same in the afternoon, after having a small glass of water at lunch).
Adding to this is the fact that some older people may have a cognitive impairment, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, which can make it difficult for them to understand how dangerous extreme heat can be.
All of these factors should be taken into account to protect an elderly loved one from the possible consequences of extreme heat exposure.
Here’s our video on the topic:
Why Does Humidity Affect Older People?
Humid weather can have a significant impact on the elderly as it makes it more difficult for their bodies to cool down through sweating.
When air is humid, sweat doesn’t evaporate readily off the skin, making it harder for the body to lose heat and keep its internal temperature regulated.
This can be especially dangerous in combination with high temperatures, as seniors could get dehydrated quickly due to the humidity.
In addition, seniors often take multiple medications which can also lead to dehydration. This is due to reduced kidney function, decreased thirst signals, or inhibited sweating as a side effect.
Making matters worse, some elderly people can’t move around as well due to physical limitations and this further reduces their ability to cope with high temperatures.
Combine these issues together, and it can be difficult for them to cool down, making them more vulnerable to heat-related illnesses.
So, be sure to pay attention to humidity levels in the summer months in order to protect yourself or a loved one from potential health risks.
Make sure you (or they) have access to air conditioners or fans and drink plenty of fluids and drinks with electrolytes, such as sports drinks, throughout the day.
What Temperature Is Too Hot For Elderly People?
Saying a hard and fast temperature reading that is too hot for elderly people can’t be done, because it depends on the person’s physical health, age, and lifestyle. Generally speaking, you’ll want to try to stay cool when the outdoor temperature reaches 80°F or higher.
Temperatures in the mid-80s or above can be especially dangerous if they are combined with high humidity levels.
If this happens, seniors may become dehydrated quickly and could struggle to regulate their body temperature.
Some signs of heat intolerance in older individuals include:
- feeling faint or dizzy
- having a headache or nausea
- experiencing muscle cramps or weakness
- sweating profusely even when not physically active
- becoming confused or disorientated
- and having difficulty breathing.
If you notice any of these symptoms in yourself or an elder loved one, take immediate action – such as moving to a cool place, drinking plenty of fluids, using air conditioning or a fan, and dressing appropriately for the heat.
Keep in mind that some medications can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate temperature, so it is best to check with your doctor before going out in extreme heat conditions.
Also, be sure to check on elderly neighbors or relatives who may not have access to proper cooling systems.
What Are The Symptoms Of Heat Stress In The Elderly?
When it comes to being out in (or exposed to) high summer temperatures, the elderly can experience a variety of symptoms related to heat stress.
Here are the warning signs and symptoms of heat-related illness :
1. Feeling faint or dizzy: Anyone could feel faint or dizzy in extreme heat and humidity, but older adults can be particularly susceptible due to their bodies not being able to regulate their own temperature.
This can be caused by dehydration, by the inability of sweat to evaporate off the skin in humid conditions, and/or by medications that interfere with temperature regulation.
2. Headache or nausea: A lot of older people don’t drink as much as they should, and heat-related headaches and nausea can result from the combination of being dehydrated, high outside temperatures, and improper hydration.
3. Muscle cramps or weakness: Excessive heat can cause heat cramps and weakness in the muscles due to dehydration, electrolyte depletion, and an inability of the body to properly cool itself off through sweat.
4. Sweating profusely even when not physically active: Seniors may experience excessive sweating due to their bodies’ reduced ability to cool down and regulate its temperature in extreme heat.
Even if they aren’t moving around, seniors may still perspire heavily in these conditions.
5. Becoming confused or disorientated: Elderly people can become disorientated or confused when exposed to hot temperatures for a prolonged period of time, due to dehydration and a decrease in blood flow to the brain.
6. Difficulty breathing: High temperatures and humidity levels can cause difficulty breathing as it increases body strain and reduces oxygen supply which can lead to fatigue and exhaustion. This is especially true among people with cardiac issues.
7. Swelling or heat edema in the ankles or feet that doesn’t go away fairly quickly after putting your feet up.
8. Heat rash: a rash of small bumps that feels itchy or stinging.
9. Heat stroke: The National Institute on Aging reports that, “Heat stroke is a medical emergency in which the body’s temperature rises above 104°F. Signs of heat stroke are fainting; confusion or acting strangely; not sweating even when it’s hot; dry, flushed skin; strong, rapid pulse; or a slow, weak pulse. When a person has any of these symptoms, they should seek medical help right away and immediately move to a cooler place, such as under shade or indoors. They should also take action to lower their body temperature with cool clothes, a cool bath or shower, and fans.”
Remember, if elderly people feel any of these symptoms in extreme heat, it’s imperative that they move to a cooler area as soon as possible, drink plenty of water, and use air conditioning or an electric fan to cool down.
And don’t forget about those elderly neighbors or relatives who may not have access to proper cooling systems! Check in with them to be sure they are keeping cool.
How Do You Treat Heat Intolerance?
Treating heat intolerance in the elderly requires taking steps to reduce their exposure to extreme heat and helping them cool down.
Here are some ways you can help:
1. Move to a cooler area: Elderly people should move indoors or find shade outdoors where temperatures may be more moderate.
2. Drink plenty of fluids: Keeping hydrated is key to avoiding heat-related illnesses and symptoms, so do your best to remind your elderly loved one to drink lots of water or other electrolyte-filled beverages even if they may not feel thirsty. Sodas and sugary drinks don’t count.
3. Use air conditioning or a fan: It can be difficult for an elderly person to regulate their body temperature, so having a fan or air conditioning running in their home can help reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses.
4. Dress appropriately: When it comes to dressing during summer months, wearing light-colored clothing that’s made from breathable fabrics, and avoiding heavy layers can help keep body temperatures better regulated. Check out this clothing designed to keep you cool.
5. Take breaks: If someone is going outside in extreme heat, they should take frequent breaks or move into shaded areas every 15 minutes or so. They should also keep drinking plenty of fluids and stay hydrated throughout the day.
6. Limit strenuous activities: Doing strenuous activities like gardening, mowing the lawn, or exercising in extreme heat can cause a strain on the body. Try to do these things in the cool of the morning or toward the end of the day and take frequent breaks when being active.
7. Use sunscreen: Even if someone isn’t spending much time outside, it’s still important to wear sunscreen to protect against UV rays. Sunburns can impair the body’s ability to cool itself, leading to further heat-related issues.
How Seniors Can Stay Cool In The Summer
As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The best way to reduce heat-related problems is to try to avoid them in the first place.
Here are some tips for ways seniors can stay cool in the summer:
1. Stay in air-conditioned areas and limit outdoor activities during extreme heat events: As we’ve been saying, air-conditioning can be a lifesaver on hot days. It helps regulate body temperature and prevents heat-related illnesses.
If at all possible, an older person’s home should be air conditioned when temperatures soar outside.
If they don’t have air conditioning, using fans in combination with rubbing the face, arms, and legs with moist cloths or towels can help, as can spending the hottest part of the day in a cooler place, such as a senior center, a nearby shopping mall, or even a movie theater.
2. Dress for the heat: Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing made of breathable fabrics to help keep the body cool and allow it to better regulate its internal temperature. When going outside, it’s also a good idea to wear a broad-brimmed hat to keep the sun off your head (like this one).
3. Drink lots of fluids: Staying hydrated with water or electrolyte drinks is essential for avoiding dehydration which can cause heat exhaustion or other health issues in extreme temperatures. If you have to be outside for a long period of time in the heat, carrying electrolyte tablets like these can replace those lost to sweating.
4. Take cool showers or baths: Taking cold showers or baths can help cool off the body quickly.
5. Use a fan: Using a fan or air conditioning unit in areas where it may be difficult to stay cool can help provide relief from the summer heat. If you are going to be outside, a handheld mister fan like these can help as can cooling towels that you wet down and wear around your neck.
6. Stay out of direct sunlight: Staying out of direct sunlight during peak hours can help prevent sunburns and other health issues that are caused by being exposed to extreme temperatures for too long.
7. Use sunscreen: Even if someone isn’t spending much time outside, it’s still important to wear sunscreen as it helps protect against UV rays which can impair the body’s ability to cool itself, leading to further heat-related issues.
The summer heat can be especially difficult for the elderly, but there are many ways to help them stay cool and safe in hot weather.
From drinking lots of fluids and taking cold showers or baths, to using air conditioning, fans or other cooling sources, and wearing sunscreen when venturing outside, these tips will help ensure that seniors remain comfortable and healthy even in extreme temperatures.
Also, it is helpful to remind the elderly to stay hydrated throughout the day and to offer support with staying cool in places where it might be difficult to do.
Finally, it is important to check in on elderly loved ones regularly and keep an eye out for signs they may be dehydrated or experiencing heat-related illnesses, such as dizziness, confusion or excessive sweating.
If any of these symptoms occur, seek medical attention immediately to ensure that they receive the best possible care.