Hot Weather Safety Tips for Seniors
Excessive exposure to high heat is unsafe for anyone. It’s even riskier if you are older or have health problems. It is important to be cautious and seek relief quickly when overheating. Otherwise, you might start to feel sick or risk heat-related illnesses that could cause serious health issues.
Why can extreme weather be even more dangerous for older adults than for younger people? Hotter days can cause difficulty in the body’s ability to regulate its temperature. This can be challenging for older adults, who typically do not adjust as well as others to sudden temperature changes. Additionally, older adults are more likely to have chronic medical conditions that affect the body’s response to temperature, including heart and lung problems. Also, take an inventory of a senior’s prescription meds. Some of these can alter the body’s ability to control temperature or sweat (problematic meds can include high blood pressure drugs, diuretics, and sedatives).
Plan, prepare and stay informed
The adage that knowledge is power applies to safety in hot weather. The thermometer, the weather app on your cellphone, and knowledge of the “heat index” are all part of your game plan. (The heat index is what the temperature feels like to the human body when the relative humidity is combined with the air temperature. It has essential consideration for the human body, especially one over age 65 or so).
Here are a handful of specific tips:
- It may seem obvious, but make sure your senior stays hydrated. Water is great, but add fruit and vegetable juices for variety. Don’t wait until someone says he or she is thirsty before they begin hydrating. By the time active thirst sets in, the body is already on its way to drying out.
- If air conditioning is unavailable, make sure to close blinds and curtains during the hottest times of the day. About 86 percent of people in the Phoenix area do have the benefit of AC in their homes, luckily. However, it’s a key maintenance component to ensure air conditioning units are clean and well-maintained (that keeps costs down, also).
- Cool off by visiting a mall, movie, or air-conditioned senior center. Visit the Heat Relief Network for other suggestions.
- The importance of using broad-spectrum sunscreen whenever you’re outside can’t be overemphasized. It should be SPF 15 or higher. Make sure a hat, protective clothing, and a solid pair of sunglasses are always at the ready.
- Forego outdoor exercise or head for an indoor facility. An easy way to work out at home is with fitness offerings from AARP (the American Association of Retired People). YouTube videos are another easy (and free) source of fitness inspiration.
- When it’s time to head out for errands or other excursions, wait — if possible — until the weather cools down.
- And if a heat wave strikes, help arrange for a “buddy system” for seniors. If one is not in place, help set up a check-in system with friends and family members to make be confident that older adults are safe, comfortable, and not in need of any essentials.
As you likely know, many heat-related maladies can be avoided with proper preparation and planning. But it’s best, as always, not to be taken by surprise if trouble arises. Don’t underestimate the potential dangers. Seek medical treatment immediately if a senior displays any symptoms of heat-related illness, including vomiting, weakness, dizziness, or nausea.
The specifics: heat-related illnesses
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention names and explains several kinds of heat-related illness, including heat cramps, heat edema, heat rash, heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat syncope (a fainting episode or dizziness that usually occurs when standing for too long or suddenly standing up after sitting or lying down). Factors that may play a role in heat syncope are dehydration and the inability of the body to adjust to extreme heat). Sunburn, and Rhabdomyolysis (a serious medical condition associated with heat stress and prolonged physical exertion. It causes rapid breakdown, rupture, and death of muscle. When muscle tissue dies, electrolytes and large proteins are released into the bloodstream. It can result in irregular heart rhythms and even seizures.
While these illnesses can be serious, remember that many of them can be completely avoided or greatly minimized with proper advance planning. A professional caregiver can take you to a local mall, movie, or air-conditioned senior center to cool off.