Hot weather can increase everyone’s risk for heat exhaustion and dehydration, but it’s especially dangerous for seniors, who may not be as aware of changes in body temperature. The body’s ability to cool itself diminishes with age, and conditions that can cause heat cramps in a teen may lead to heat exhaustion in a 40-year-old and heat stroke in someone over 60.
Fortunately, keeping older adults safe and healthy during hotter weather is manageable when you follow these simple tips:
Turn on the AC
Setting an air conditioner to 78°F is the best way to avoid heat-related illness, but not all home or apartments are air-conditioned, and air conditioners may break down or not perform well during extreme temperatures. Some older adults just don’t turn on their air conditioners!
If your loved one doesn’t own an air conditioner, open windows and use fans, but pull shades as low as possible to keep out the sun and leave fans running at night to draw in cool air. If it’s possible, get them a window air conditioner.
It’s very important to make sure air-conditioner filters are changed or cleaned frequently. Filters can trap allergens such as pollutants, mold spores, pollen, and dust. When the unit is turned on, these particles are blown through the air and can cause breathing problems.
One of the most important ways to stay safe and healthy during the summer is by staying hydrated. Have plenty of liquids on hand, but if your family member has heart, kidney, or liver disease, check with their physician about how much is safe. In addition to drinking water, eat foods containing water, such as fruits, vegetables, gelatin (Jell-O), and ice pops. Avoid coffee and alcohol, which can deplete, rather than replenish, fluids.
Remember to Eat
For some, appetites may decrease in summer months. However, it is important to continue to eat well. Be sure your loved one’s daily meals contain protein (lean meats, like chicken and fish) and complex carbohydrates (vegetables and whole grains). Eat small, frequent meals to keep up your strength.
Enjoy Cooling Baths and Showers
Encourage your loved to take frequent lukewarm (not cold) baths and showers to keep your body temperature from rising too high. Be sure that the bathtub has a slip-resistant mat or safety bars to prevent slips and falls.
Consider a Home Health Aide
Hiring a home health aide can provide peace of mind for family members, and regular home visits offer welcome companionship when excessive heat keeps you inside for long periods of time. At the very least, be sure to have a neighbor or friend check in on a loved one periodically to make sure they are okay. Illness from heat can cause a person to become confused or even lose consciousness. Check on loved ones and neighbors who are over age 65 at least twice a day.
Have Them Stay Inside at Midday
The hottest time of the day is between 10 AM and 2 PM. Be sure to have them avoidcooking or spending time outdoors during this period. If your loved one must leave the house during a heat wave, have them wear loose, light-colored clothing and a wide-brimmed hat. Don’t forget sunscreen, especially if they take medications that increase sensitivity to sunlight. Have them bring cold water when they go out.
Practice Car Safety
Don’t let anyone stay in a car while it is parked without air-conditioning. Cars can heat up to dangerous temperatures very quickly and anyone left in a ca is at risk for serious heat-related illness or even death.
Seek out Cool Places
Visit your local library, shopping center, movie theater, community center, or anyplace with air conditioning.
Watch for signs of heat-related illness:
- Leg or stomach cramps are often the first sign. Treat mild cramps immediately with rest and fluids; if cramps are severe or accompanied by nausea, seek medical attention.
- Fatigue, weakness, nausea, headache, dizziness, confusion, weak or rapid pulse, and shallow breathing are signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. With heat exhaustion, the skin is clammy or sweaty, and with heat stroke it is flushed, hot, and dry.
- Treat heat exhaustion by elevating feet, placing cool wet cloths on the skin, and giving the person water or electrolyte solutions. If these don’t help, seek medical attention. Heat exhaustion can develop into heat stroke, which is a medical emergency. Call 911 at once!