How Seniors can Stay Safer when Temperatures are Higher

August 11, 2015

Hot weather comes with several health risks for aging adults and people who have chronic illnesses. It is important for all adults and especially those who are prone to hyperthermia to know how to protect themselves. When the body's natural heat-regulating mechanisms fail, hyperthermia ensues. Some common hyperthermia effects include dizziness, heat cramps, heat stroke and heat exhaustion. The risks only become higher for older adults as temperatures crawl higher on the thermometer.

Several factors increase a person's risk of developing a heat-related illness. Heart disease, kidney disease, lung disease, dehydration, poor circulation, high blood pressure, insufficient sweat glands and excess weight increase the risk of hyperthermia. There are several ways for adults to stay safer during hotter weather. These include the following:

  • Drink more water when temperatures are higher.
  • Use air conditioning when it is hot or especially when it is both hot and humid outdoors.
  • Avoid overdressing on days when the weather is hot.
  • Stay indoors on hot days when there are air pollution warnings.
  • If air conditioning is not available or is not working, go to a designated cooling center.
  • Do not visit places that are overcrowded on hot days.
  • If mobility is limited, arrange for private transportation instead of using public transportation on hot days.

Aging adults should also watch out for one another on hot days. When leaving the house on a hotter day, it is best to take a friend or family member. These individuals should understand what hyperthermia is and how to identify signs of a heat-related illness. Heat stroke is the most serious form of hyperthermia and requires prompt care. When the body cannot cool itself naturally and is overwhelmed by the heat, the result is heat stroke. Some common signs of heat stroke are lack of sweating, a strong and high pulse, mental confusion, an increase in body temperature, flushed skin, dry skin, staggering, dizziness, feeling faint and coma. Any older adult displaying signs of heat stroke needs immediate medical attention. Family members or friends should call 911 if they are unable to quickly take a person with heat stroke to a hospital.

When a heat-related illness is suspected but not confirmed, it is still important to take action. People who feel an incident coming on or notice it in another person should move to a shady place if there are no air-conditioned buildings nearby. A person with a possible heat-related illness should be moved to an air-conditioned building whenever possible. It is best to lie down until the feeling passes. If possible, take a cool bath or shower whenever it is safe to do so. When it is not possible to take a bath or shower, put a wet and cool cloth on the neck, armpits, groin or wrists. Since the blood passes close to the skin in these areas, it will help cool a person off quickly. If it is safe or possible to take fluids, drink cool water or juice. Always call 911 if a person passes out from the heat or if heat stroke is suspected.

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