Overheating in Older Adults
Older Adults More Prone to Heat-Illness
Summer brings fresh vegetables from our gardens, cookouts, and sitting on porches chatting with neighbors until the sun goes down. Summer also brings with it unbearably high temperatures. As we age, our bodies have a harder time dealing with extreme heat, and therefore puts older adults at a higher risk for heat-related illnesses. Due to a number of factors, as we age, our body’s ability to cool ourselves becomes less efficient. There are a number of reasons why this occurs: decreased blood circulation, inefficient sweat glands, age-related illnesses (e.g. heart, lung, or kidney disease), salt-restricted diets, certain medications, and being over or underweight can all have an effect on a person’s ability to cool their bodies.
Heat-related illnesses can be dangerous and may require medical attention. Hyperthermia occurs when the body temperature rises above normal. The different levels of hyperthermia are commonly referred to as heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Some of the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness may be dizziness, thirst, headache, nausea, muscle spasms, cramping, fatigue, loss of coordination, and cold, clammy skin. Learn all of the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses and how to treat them here.
There are a number of steps you can take to diminish your risk of overheating.
- Listen to the local weather and plan outdoor activities accordingly.
- Avoid physical exertion during the hottest part of the day.
- Stay in an air-conditioned building as much as possible. Do not rely on a fan as your main cooling source in extreme heat. If your home does not have air-conditioning, check out your local Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, a nearby mall, or a movie theatre are great places to beat the heat. Here is a list of other cooling centers in the area.
- Drink more water. DO NOT wait until you are thirsty to start drinking.
- If your doctor limits the amount of liquid you drink, or if you are on a water pill, ask them how much you should drink in hot weather.
- Do not drink sugary or alcoholic beverages. They will cause you to lose more body fluid. Water is best to consume, however, fruit and vegetable juices are also good to drink.
- Replace salt and minerals. Heavy sweating causes your body to lose both salt and essential minerals. A sports beverage, like Gatorade or Powerade, can be used to replace the nutrients you lose when you sweat.
- If you are on a low-salt diet, have diabetes, high blood pressure, or other chronic conditions, talk with your doctor before drinking a sports beverage.
- Do not use the stove or oven to cook. Consuming hot or heavy meals will add heat to your body.
- Wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing.
- If you start feeling hot, take a cool shower or bath to help refresh your body.
Even though anyone of any age can suffer from heat-related illness, older populations of people are more vulnerable to the heat than others. If you are over the age of 65, have a friend or a relative call to check on you at least twice a day. If you know someone in this age group, call them up and check on them. We are sure they would love to hear from you.
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) within the Administration for Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services helps eligible households pay for home cooling and heating costs. Individuals interested in applying for assistance should contact their local or state LIHEAP agency. For more information, go to www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ocs/liheap/
Heat and Older Adults:
Tips for Preventing Heat-Related Illness:
Warning Signs and Symptoms of Heat-Related Illness:
The Dangers of Overheating in Older Adults
Keep it Cool with Hot Weather Advice for Older People
NIH tips for older adults to combat heat-related illnesses