Preparing for the summer heat

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Summer heat is a serious matter for older adults. Summer temperatures can pose dangers. Gardening and other outdoor activities, sitting in non-air-conditioned homes or sitting in a closed vehicle can result in excessive heat and potentially dangerous temperatures.

Summer Heat Risk for the Elderly

As people move into their 70s, their bodies become less efficient at regulating temperature. This includes a reduced ability to cool the body through sweating and a decreased awareness of thirst. These natural changes are exacerbated for people with health problems. These include cardiovascular disease, kidney or lung problems, unhealthy body weight, or those who take certain medications.

If you are taking medication or have a health condition, ask your doctor or pharmacist if it increases your health risk in the heat and follow their recommendations.

Summer Heat Safety Tips

Stay safe and comfortable during the summer heat by following doctors’ orders and following these tips:
• Tune in regularly to local weather forecasts and alerts so you know when to take extra care.
• Stay Hydrated – Drink plenty of cool liquids, especially water or juice, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Avoid caffeine and alcohol. (If you are on a fluid-restricted diet, speak to your healthcare provider during periods of heat.)
• Keep your home comfortable by using fans to circulate cooler air. Close curtains and blinds during the warmest hours.
• If your home is extremely hot: Take a break from the heat by spending a few hours in a cool place. It could be a tree-shaded area, swimming facility or an air-conditioned spot such as a shopping mall, grocery store, place of worship or public library.
• Dress for the weather. Wear short-sleeve, loose-fitting garments. Natural fibers and light colors are cooler than synthetic materials and dark colors. And don’t forget your sun hat or an umbrella.
• Take cool showers or baths until you feel refreshed.
• Exercise and work outside only during the cooler hours of the day. Pace your activities.
• Wear sunblock when you are outdoors. Sunburn reduces the body’s ability to regulate heat. Remember, sunscreen will protect against the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays but not from the heat.
• Arrange for regular visits by family members, neighbors or friends during very hot days in case you need assistance. Visitors can help identify signs of heat illness that could be missed over the phone.

Heat-Related Illness

Hyperthermia is the name for a variety of heat-related illnesses that can include:
• severe cramps in the abdomen, arms or legs
• swelling of the ankles and feet
• sudden dizziness and rapid pulse

If ignored, these conditions can progress to heat stroke, a very dangerous condition.

The symptoms of heatstroke are:
• Dizziness or fainting and unconsciousness
• Nausea or vomiting
• Body temperature over 104
• Confusion, staggering
• Dry, flushed skin with no sweating
• Strong, rapid pulse
• Headache

What to Do When Summer Heat Strikes

A person with heat stroke should be seen by a physician immediately! Call 911.

The National Institute on Aging provides five tips on what to do if you suspect someone is suffering from a heat-related illness:
1. Get the person out of the sun and into an air-conditioned or other cool place.
2. Offer fluids such as water, fruit and vegetable juices. Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
3. Encourage the individual to shower, bathe or sponge off with cool water.
4. Apply a cold, wet cloth to the wrists and/or neck. These are places where arterial blood passes close to the surface and the cold cloths can help cool the blood.
5. Urge the person to lie down and rest, preferably in a cool place.

For More Information

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) offers information on staying safe during periods of extreme heat.

The Weather Channel website issues alerts for periods of high heat, and includes heat safety and preparedness resources.