Many people might choose a nice, hot day over a blustery, cold afternoon. However, excessively hot days can not only feel uncomfortable, but they can also prove life-threatening. Elderly men and women, in particular, are susceptible to the effects of hot temperatures.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people ages 65 and older are more prone to heat stroke and heat-related stress than those of other ages. Seniors’ bodies are not able to adjust to sudden changes in temperature as quickly as younger people’s. A chronic condition that affects the body’s response to heat, as well as taking certain prescription medications also may play a role in seniors’ susceptibility to the heat.
The City of Sacramento Department of Parks and Recreation says that around 370 deaths from heat-related illnesses occur across the United States each year. Nearly half of those deaths are people who are 65 and older. Prolonged heat exposure can take quite a toll on the average person. Factor in the more delicate health of many seniors, and the hot weather can be quite dangerous.
Further compounding the problem is higher energy costs. Seniors living on fixed incomes may not be able to afford to turn on air conditioners because of the power draw.
There are different types of heat-related injuries, but heat exhaustion and heat stroke are the most common. Here are signs that a person may be experiencing one or the other.
• heavy sweating
• fast, weak pulse rate
• fast and shallow breathing
• extremely high body
• temperature (over 105 F)
• red, hot and dry skin
• absence of sweat
• throbbing headache
What to do
Friends or family members should check in with an elderly relative or friend when the weather is especially warm to ensure they’re safely handling the heat.
In addition, people of all ages can take the following precautions to keep cool when the temperatures rise.
• Drink cool, nonalcoholic beverages. Water and diluted fruit juices can help rehydrate the body quickly.
• Restrict physical activity.
• Take a cool shower or bath or wipe yourself down with a damp cloth.
• Seek an air-conditioned environment. For those who won’t or can’t turn on the air conditioning, visit a shopping mall or library to keep cool. Some towns and cities also make cooling centers available in extreme heat.
• Wear lightweight clothing.
• Try to remain indoors during the hottest hours of the day.
• Wear hats or use an umbrella to shield your head from sunshine outdoors.
• Eat cool foods, but avoid extremely cold foods. Otherwise you risk the chance of developing stomach cramps.
• Do not do laundry or turn on appliances that contribute to extra indoor heat.
The heat is nothing to take lightly, especially when it comes to seniors’ health.