Seniors More Susceptible to Summer Heat


Posted on June 19, 2017


It is a known fact that hot weather can pose alarming problems to one’s health. This is especially true in the case of the elderly people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), individuals above the age of 65 years are at a higher risk for heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and other heat-related illnesses. The reasons behind this include aging-related bodily changes, chronic health conditions, and side effects of taking certain medications.

Why Should You Take Precautions?

It is important to note that Tucson, Arizona has hot summers where June, the warmest month, has an average daytime temperature of 100.2°F and recorded days as high as 117°F. These heat waves can last for days in a row, or even weeks. This is alarming for the elderly who are at a greater risk of contracting heat-related illness. Seniors who live alone and have restraints on mobility or have to walk to the bus or grocery store are even more vulnerable. Given these circumstances, it is important for seniors to take necessary precautions to prevent overheating. Our extreme hot weather can have these adverse effects on anyone, but especially the elderly:

  • Heat exhaustion: This takes place when a person over exerts themselves or does not drink enough liquids in hot weather.
  • Heat stroke: This happens when the body suffers from prolonged exposure to heat and loses the ability to cool itself.
  • Heat rash: This happens when the sweat ducts get blocked, causing itching and discomfort.
  • Heat syncope: Commonly known as fainting, which occurs from low blood pressure when heat causes the blood vessels to dilate and the body fluids to move to the legs.

Remember, prevention is better than cure. If timely measures are adopted, even the elderly can stay fit despite the heat. Here are some useful tips for seniors to stay safe in summer:

Use of Air Conditioners

Air conditioners are a necessity on hot days. They moderate the severe temperatures and help to keep the body cool. For seniors, who have a reduced capacity for heat tolerance, air conditioners are even more essential.

If you do not have an air conditioner at home, make the best possible use of fans. As the day starts growing hotter, draw the curtains to prevent the heat from entering your home. It is a good idea to invest in heavy drapes as these act as good insulators. In places with low humidity such as Tucson, Arizona, you could also use an evaporative cooler, which costs half the price of an air conditioning unit. Placing a block of ice in a bowl and positioning the bowl in front of a fan is also a great option. Air conditioners are a must because they:

  • lessen heat and, therefore, lower its adverse effect on the performance of everyday tasks
  • reduce chances of excessive sweating, thereby preventing dehydration
  • improve the air quality that benefits the respiratory system

Drink Plenty of Water

A person’s sense of thirst reduces as he/she ages. That is why elderly people are often found to be less conscious of their need to consume water, which can be dangerous for their health as it may cause dehydration. Other reasons for dehydration as one ages are decreased kidney function and medications. During the summer months, all these factors can aggravate the problem of dehydration. Hence, the elderly people need to be extremely careful and alert about their water intake. More water intake is essential during the summer months because it:

  • reduces fatigue and tiredness, which can easily target seniors on the hot days
  • helps maintain the balance of body fluids that is responsible for proper functioning
  • energizes muscles and prevents body cells from premature shriveling
  • improvesthe functioning of the kidneys

Wear Suitable Clothes

In summers, given the sweltering heat, tight or synthetic clothes can be a cause of discomfort for seniors, making it difficult for them to move around and trapping heat to the body. Lightweight, loose-fitting clothes made of natural fabrics are the most appropriate for arid weather conditions as they help the skin “breathe.” Also, light-colored clothes are preferable to dark-colored ones as they reflect sunlight, thus preventing heat absorption in the body. When stepping outdoors, wearing a broad-brimmed hat can effectively protect one from the direct rays of the sun. It is important to wear suitable clothes during the summer because they:

  • help reflect light and thereby tackle heat effectively
  • prevent the skin from feeling itchy and irritable
  • enable more air to pass over the body, which makes one stay cooler

Take Intermittent Breaks

Summers can make people exhausted very quickly. This is more so in the case of the elderly who are bodily weaker and more fragile, therefore, it is important for them to slow down their pace of work and take frequent breaks. Also, drinking lots of water is essential when outdoors. If required to go outside for an errand, make sure they rest from time to time in a cool, shady spot. Frequent breaks should be remembered because they:

  • reduce overall strain on the body, thereby preventing extreme tiredness
  • help the body regain its temporary loss of strength
  • promote better productivity, especially when experiencing heat and discomfort

Keep Yourself Cool

When the weather is extremely hot, it is not surprising to find the body temperature raising as well. Here again, elderly people are more vulnerable as an increased body temperature can cause greater weakness in them. It is imperative to keep the body cool to prevent heat-related illnesses. Wetting towels with cool water and applying them on the neck, armpits, and wrists can help in lowering body temperatures. Cooling and refreshing the body during summer is necessary because it:

  • moderates the body temperature, which helps in tackling heat better
  • provides a natural dose of energy
  • improves blood circulation that, in turn, boosts productivity despite heat

Be Aware of the Symptoms of Heat Illnesses

Being aware and conscious of the symptoms of heat illness is of utmost importance because it will help you seek timely medical help for the elderly in time. Tiredness, weakness, excessive sweating, dizziness, and headache are all warning signs of heat exhaustion. These symptoms may progress to nausea, vomiting, and even fainting. Heat stroke is more severe and includes symptoms such as extremely high body temperature, lack of sweating, confusion, and sometimes coma. Knowing the symptoms of heat illness is imperative for seniors because it:

  • helps deal with various kinds of heat illness in an effective manner
  • prompts the affected elderly person as well as those around him/her to seek medical assistance when necessary

Use Sunscreen When Outdoors

The ultraviolet sunrays are especially harmful for the sensitive skin of elders. The application of sunscreen with sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher is essential for the seniors when going outdoors. To prevent rashes or skin problems, caregivers must also ensure that the sunscreens are devoid of alcohol, preservatives, or fragrances. Sunscreens are important because they:

  • decrease the development of skin cancer caused by direct exposure to the ultraviolet sunrays
  • prevent tanning and uneven darkening of the skin
  • slow down the pace of wrinkling and aging of the skin

Seniors are more vulnerable to heat-related illnesses. So, make it a point to check on your aging elderly ones during the summer months. It is essential for you to ensure that your elderly loved ones stay safe and healthy during the summer months. If you need assistance, our in home caregivers would be happy to share the responsibility of keeping your elderly loved ones safe during the summer season.