As we age, our bodies are less likely to adjust to hot summer temperatures and high humidity. It is much easier for older adults to suffer from heat related challenges including dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
As a result, a University of Chicago Medical Center study reports that about 40% of heat-related deaths throughout the country occur in people over the age of 65. The hottest part of the year is here and here is what you need to know about how to help seniors stay cool and safe.
Why Seniors are More Vulnerable to Heat
It is a good idea for older adults to stay inside and out of the sun when it is very hot outside. Even a casual walk can cause overexertion and be dangerous.
This is because:
- Prescription medications can impair our body’s ability to regulate temperature. Some even prevent sweating, which is our body’s natural cooling system. That is why it is especially important to know the side-effects of medications.
- Older bodies just do not adjust well or quickly to changes in temperature – especially if those changes are sudden. Aging itself can reduce the ability to safely manage heat.
- Many chronic medical conditions – especially those experienced by the elderly – actually change how our bodies respond to heat.
How to Help Seniors Stay Cool
- Keep hydrated by drinking plenty of cool water throughout the day – and especially if you venture out into the sun. Seniors should not rely on waiting until they feel thirsty. As a rule of thumb, you should divide your body weight by three, and then plan to drink that amount in ounces throughout the day. If you weigh about 150 pounds, you would need about 50 ounces of water – which is about six glasses of water. Although this may be a lot for a senior to drink, it is vitally important.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages as both can dehydrate you.
- Go ahead and treat yourself with a cold snack. It doesn’t have to be ice cream. Make it healthy and try slightly frozen fruit, like grapes or frozen pure fruit juice, frozen yogurt or simply enjoy some ice chips.
- Go for a quick cool-down by applying a cold washcloth to the back of the neck.
- If you have to venture outside, wear light colored cotton clothes. This fabric is breathable and can help you to adjust to temperature changes throughout the day. Newer cooling and wicking fabric is also a good choice or for those who are outdoors often, consider some SPF protective clothing to minimize sun exposure and promote cooling.
- Plan outings to destinations featuring air conditioning, such as shopping malls, museums, or recreation centers.
- Be proactive about keeping the indoor environment cool by closing shades during the hottest part of the day.
Heat stroke is dangerous, and for seniors it can be fatal. Know the symptoms – but better yet – avoid the potential by playing it safe and staying inside during the hottest of the upcoming summer days.