When it’s hot outside, everyone feels it, regardless of age. Yet not everyone has the same opportunities and abilities to cool off when needed.
This summer, take a minute to think of those who are at higher risk for heat-related illness and find ways to help them.
The Why of Higher Risk
There are many reasons that elderly people—those 65 years and older—are more likely to experience heat stress and become ill as a result. Between 1999 to 2009 there were 7,233 heat-related deaths in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists the causes for heat stress in the elderly:
- Elderly people are not able to adjust to sudden changes in temperature like they did when they were younger.
- Chronic medical conditions—which elderly people are more likely to have than younger people—change the body’s normal responses to heat.
- Elderly people are more likely to be taking prescription medications that can hamper or impair the body’s ability to regulate temperature.
Obesity, dehydration, and fever can also make a person more susceptible to heat stress. In addition, people who do not have air conditioning and lack the ability to get outside or go someplace with air conditioning, are at increased risk of health problems in extreme hot weather.
Heat-related illness may be heat stroke (when the body’s temperature rises rapidly and the body is not able to cool down with perspiration) or heat exhaustion (develops after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate replacement of fluids).
How to Help
For those who feel like they are experiencing heat-related stress, take steps to cool down. The CDC recommends drinking cool, nonalcoholic beverages (note that extremely cold liquids can cause cramps and individuals who have a medical reason to limit fluids, check with your doctor). Prevent heat stress during hot weather, especially in high humidity with these tips from the CDC:
- Take a cool shower or bath
- Go someplace that has air conditioning such as a mall or library
- Wear lightweight clothing
- Avoid strenuous activity
If you have elderly neighbors or loved ones who require extra care, be sure to check on them a couple of times a day during hot weather and check for symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. During the visit, encourage them to drink more fluids (again, be sure to determine if they are on water pills or if their doctor limits their fluid intake). In some cases, you may need to not only visit but help with transportation to an air-conditioned location.
If you see signs of heat stress when visiting an elderly loved one, the CDC recommends calling for immediate medical assistance. Also, begin cooling the person by either moving them to a shady spot, immersing them in a tub of cool water or getting them in a cold shower (even using a garden hose to spray cold water or a sponge soaked in cool water can help) and try to lower their body temperature to 101-102 degrees Fahrenheit.
Learn more about coping in extreme heat at http://www.cdc.gov/features/extremeheat/.