As summer begins and temperatures start to rise, people are spending an increasing amount of time outside. While everyone should enjoy the warm weather and take advantage of being able to spend part of their day outdoors, it’s important to limit exposure to extreme heat and direct sunlight as much as possible – especially for older adults. A recent study found that 40% of heat-related fatalities in the US were among people over the age of 65. Older adults are at a higher risk of developing heat-related illnesses because of physical changes related to aging, chronic health conditions, and in some cases, as a result of taking certain medications. It’s critical for older adults to take precautionary measures when spending time outdoors in the summer so that they can enjoy the warm weather without worry of becoming ill.
Here you will find information on:
- How to Spot Health Problems Caused by Hot Weather
- Ways to Prevent Dehydration & Heat Stroke
- Hot Weather Safety Tips for Seniors
How to Spot Health Problems Caused by Hot Weather
When the temperature outside is above 80°F, older adults are at a higher risk of developing a heat-related illness. It’s important to be able to recognize the symptoms of a heat-related illness so that the correct treatment is received as soon as possible. Four of the most common heat-related illnesses are dehydration, heatstroke, sunburn, and heat rash.
Dehydration refers to the condition in which our body loses water. It can be very serious if not treated immediately. Symptoms of dehydration include:
- Muscle cramps
- Passing out
If you or your loved one are exhibiting any of these symptoms, it could be due to dehydration. It’s important to try to drink fluids such as water or low-sugar energy drinks with electrolytes. If conditions worsen, seek medical attention.
Heatstroke is a very dangerous rise in body temperature. It’s important to note that in older adults, this rise can happen gradually over multiple days after exposure to heat. If left untreated, heatstroke can be fatal. Symptoms for heatstroke include:
- A body temperature over 104°
- Rapid pulse
- Red, hot skin
- Headaches and dizziness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Passing out
If someone is exhibiting any of these symptoms after being exposed to the heat (even if it’s over multiple days) call 911 immediately. While waiting for help to arrive, try and move to a cool and shady place. If possible, wet cloths and put them on the persons’ ankles, wrists, armpits, and neck to lower their body temperature.
While sunburn is not life-threatening at its onset, it does cause ultraviolet (UV) damage to your skin, which can lead to skin cancer. Sunburn is a result of exposure to UV rays from the sun. Symptoms of sunburn include skin that is:
It’s best to wear sunscreen every time you know you’ll be exposed to the sun. If you or your loved one are experiencing sunburn, a great way to calm down the skin is by taking aloe vera gel and rubbing it gently on the affected areas.
Heat rash is a skin reaction to the hot weather and the sun. Heat rash is often confused for pimples, as it is a cluster of small blisters usually found on the neck, chest, groin, or in elbow creases. Heat rash can be treated by bathing in cool water and using a moisturizing soap. To dry off, don’t use a towel - instead try to air dry to soothe the skin. If symptoms persist, try using some calamine lotion or a cool compress on affected areas.
Not only is it important to limit exposure to the sun to prevent skin damage, but the hot weather can cause older adults to become dehydrated or experience heatstroke unexpectedly. Because both of these heat-related illnesses could become life-threatening very quickly, it’s important for everyone, especially older adults, to take extra precautions when getting exposure to the sun.
Ways to Prevent Dehydration and Heatstroke
Seniors are more prone to dehydration compared to other age groups because they aren’t able to conserve as much water. Additionally, our sense of thirst becomes less acute as we age. In order to prevent dehydration, it’s important to take in more fluids than we lose. Seniors should try to drink at least 8 glasses of water or low-sugar sports drinks, such as Gatorade, each day. Sports drinks contain salts called “electrolytes.” Electrolytes help regulate many vital functions, including heartbeat. Bodies lose electrolytes when they are dehydrated. If you know you are going to be in the heat, it’s very important to avoid drinking alcohol and caffeinated drinks as much as possible, as these are dehydrating.
To prevent heatstroke, the first thing to do is limit time spent outside during hot weather. One way to do this is by scheduling outdoor activities for cooler times of the day, like morning or early evening. If you do decide to spend time outside in the heat, try bringing a spray bottle to mist yourself. Remember to take breaks and to not stay outside for prolonged periods of time! It may be helpful to gradually increase the time spent outdoors so that your body is not shocked by the sudden heat exposure.
Hot Weather Safety Tips for Seniors
In addition to taking the precautionary measures listed above to prevent heatstroke and dehydration, here are some more tips for seniors to stay safe and have fun in the sun!
- Clothing: Older adults should try to wear light-colored and loose-fitting clothing. Fabrics like cotton are more breathable than synthetic fabrics like polyester.
- Eye Protection: Preserve your vision! Sun exposure can irritate eyes, especially in older adults. This can lead to vision damage. It’s important for seniors to wear sunglasses whenever outside.
- Skin Protection: Sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher should be applied at least 15-30 minutes before going outside.
- Keep Cool: It’s important for older adults to stay inside, in air conditioning, as much as possible. Places like the mall, movie theaters, and libraries usually are air conditioned and allow for seniors to be active without exposing themselves to high temperatures.
- Nighttime: Just because the sun isn’t out, it doesn’t mean that the heat has no harm. For example, mosquitos come out in the evening when it is warm outside. Seniors are more susceptible to West Nile Virus so it’s important to use bug spray!
Share these tips with your loved ones! As long as seniors follow these measures, they can enjoy the hot weather. The sun is the best source of vitamin D, so it’s a good idea to try and go outside for a little bit each day. If you have any more questions about hot weather safety, or for more tips to keep seniors healthy, Homethrive’s Care Guides are here to help!