How to Avoid Heat-related Health Problems – Guide for Seniors

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Many seniors enjoy warmer weather and find summer temperatures much more to their liking than winter weather that may limit one’s ability to venture out due to dangerous snow and ice conditions or may leave joints aching when the temperature plummets. Seniors who enjoy traveling, gardening, walking, and other outdoor activities often change the calendar with great anticipation as the weather begins to warm, however dangers can accompany the warmer temperatures.

People who are over age 65 are at an increased risk for injury and death due to heat-related complications. Elders with chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, dementia, heart disease, hypertension, or lung disease, have a higher risk of developing heat stroke or heat exhaustion in a relatively short period of time. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more people in the United States have died between 1979 and 2003 due to heat exposure than combined deaths due to earthquake, flood, hurricane, lightening, and tornado.

Hot Weather Survival Tips for Seniors

In addition to age and medical conditions, seniors should be aware of other risk factors for increased potential for serious heat-related injury, including, but not limited to:

  • environments with high humidity
  • lack of access to air conditioning
  • medication use
  • alcohol use
  • participating in strenuous physical activities during hot weather
  • obesity
  • dehydration, with increased risk if the body is losing excess fluids due to vomiting, diarrhea, etc.
  • isolation

Adequate hydration is an essential component to preventing heat-related health problems. Increase intake of cool fluids while avoiding those that contain alcohol or large amounts of sugar. Very cold drinks may cause uncomfortable cramping in hot weather, and hot beverages can increase the body temperature.

Thirst is not always a reliable indicator of the need to drink fluids, and many seniors may find that they need to drink 32- to 128-ounces of appropriate fluids every hour during heavy exertion in a hot environment. Take practical steps to avoid dehydration, such as sipping appropriate fluids regularly during an exercise class or while working and scheduling adequate and frequent rest periods. Seniors with chronic health problems requiring restricted fluid and/or salt intake should check with their healthcare provider for a plan specific to their needs.

Additional measures to prevent warm weather health problems include:

  • Stay cool in air conditioned areas, such as a home, library, shopping mall, or senior center – seniors who use of oxygen or need to keep the environment below a certain temperature should first check with a physician before signing up for money-saving programs in which some electrical service may be temporarily cut off during peak use
  • Plan outdoor activities to avoid the hottest parts of the day if possible – check weather reports and plan accordingly
  • Pace oneself while participating in activities in warmer climates, particularly when traveling to areas with warmer or more humid conditions and have a back-up plan if conditions warrant
  • Avoid staying in a parked car when temperatures are high, particularly if the vehicle is in a sunny area
  • Wear light-colored, cool, loose-fitting clothing – protective clothing that provides cooling may provide increased relief from the heat
  • Block out direct sun by moving to shady areas, using an umbrella, or going inside if possible
  • Protect exposed skin with sunscreen – a hat with vents may help protect skin while allowing air to flow better
  • Seniors with diabetes may need to check their blood glucose levels more frequently because signs of heat-related emergencies may be similar to symptoms of high or low blood sugar
  • Avoid isolation – those who live or travel alone, especially those at highest risk for heat-related injury, should have someone contact them at least twice a day when temperatures soar
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle and weight and collaborate with a healthcare professional regarding ways to manage chronic health conditions
  • Know early warning signs and proper steps to take for heat-related injuries and emergencies such as sunburn, heat rash, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke

How to Stay Healthy in Hot Weather

Seniors who live in or travel to warm climates may find that many tips for avoiding heat-related health problems are common sense. Utilizing practical ways to avoid the heat and incorporating simple ways to avoid injuries due to hot weather may not only help one to enjoy the summer months but may save a life.

This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice.

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