Older adults are at heightened risk for heat-related illnesses, so prevention is key.
- Posted on Aug 15, 2019
Jennifer Cardellini is the Director for Consumer Information at Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging
Fresh air and Vitamin D are essential, and the first warm rays of sunshine after months of snow and ice can feel like heaven. When temperatures reach the uppermost digits, however, the effects of the sun can fast become dangerous. This is especially true for older adults who have a greater susceptibility to illnesses caused by extreme heat.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), older adults are significantly more at risk for developing illnesses due to heat exposure, known as “hyperthermia”. NIH warns that certain chronic health problems, medications and age-related changes, such as changes to our skin and blood circulation, can cause problems when we are exposed to the extreme summer heat. The Cleveland Clinic shares that “warning signs of a heat emergency can include: A general sick feeling, nausea, listlessness, headache [and] confusion”. If your loved one demonstrates any of these symptoms, you should immediately get him or her out of the heat and seek medical attention, as hyperthermia may be the culprit.
Summer can be fun for your loved one, as long as you take measures to avoid heat-related illness. These suggestions can help:
1. Use air conditioning or spend time at a local cooling center
Keep your loved one’s home cool. If there is air conditioning, keep it on. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn not to use the stove or oven during extreme heat as it can make the house warmer. A cooling center is a great option for anyone who doesn’t have air conditioning. These are usually public buildings, such a libraries or senior centers, that allow residents of a city to visit for respite and activities in times of extreme heat. Check your local news or city offices to find a cooling center near you.
2. Explore the great indoors
Take advantage of the heat to check out a local museum or aquarium. Most indoor attractions have air conditioning, interesting things to do and exhibits, as well as restaurants or cafés where you may relax and take in a meal together. You may even want to make it a day-long outing. If there is an admission fee, make sure to also ask about any special senior discounts.
Indoor exercise can be an enjoyable way to beat the heat. If this is something your loved one likes, you could scope out available places. A number of recreation centers and gyms have older adult fitness classes and indoor pools. Or, propose that your loved one try a new indoor sport, like figure skating in the summer. Many ice rinks across the country offer group skating classes year-round for adults of all ages and abilities. As with any exercise routine, make sure to have your loved one consult with his or her doctor before setting out.
3. Don’t forget to hydrate
When temperatures soar, drinking plenty of fluids is necessary to avoid dehydration. Encourage your loved one to skip drinks with caffeine or alcohol, in favor of hydrating fluids like water and drinks with electrolytes. The two of you could even get creative and make your own homemade popsicles from sports drinks, or fresh-squeezed lemonade.
4. Dress in light, loose and protective clothing
Wearing appropriate clothing is a major factor in warding off the effects of heat. See to it that your loved one puts on loose, breathable items made of light fabrics. The National Institutes of Aging suggest wearing clothing made of cotton. Covering up in the right ways is also important in guarding against the sun’s harsh UV rays. Don’t leave home without protective hats, sunglasses and sunscreen.