August 14, 2012

So far this year, we’ve seen record-breaking temperatures, and it’s likely the thermometer will continue to climb in the coming weeks. The heat can be dangerous for anybody, but for seniors, it can be deadly. To avoid summertime dangers like heat stroke and dehydration, older adults need to take special precautions. Extreme heat can lead to heat stress disorders in the elderly such as heat exhaustion, heat stroke, fainting, and heat rash among other symptoms.

Why Are Seniors at Risk?

As we age, we go through physical changes that make us more vulnerable to summertime heat. Circulation worsens, making seniors less aware of when it gets dangerously hot out. It also becomes more difficult for seniors to tell when they’re thirsty.

Some medical conditions can also contribute to the problem–heart disease is one. And certain medications, like some antidepressants, can increase the risk that the heat will have damaging effects.

How Can I Make Sure I’m Staying Safe?

Since dehydration is a major concern, one of the best things you can do to stay safe is drink enough water. Keep a glass of water in every room, and sip on them throughout the day (frequently drinking small amounts is the best way to stay hydrated).

It’s also a good idea to keep a variety of beverages on hand to encourage yourself to drink enough. But make sure they’re not too sweet–sugary drinks  keep the body from absorbing the water it needs –and avoid alcohol.

To be sure that you’re not as risk of dehydration, use the urine test. Light yellow urine means you’re getting enough to drink; darker yellow means you’re not.

For more tips on staying safe in the heat, see our heat safety infographic.

What Warning Signs Should I Watch Out For?

Too much heat can cause heat exhaustion, or even worse: heat stroke. Seniors account for 40 percent of preventable, heat-related deaths each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Make sure you know the symptoms of both heat illnesses to help you avoid them.

Heat exhaustion happens when you become dehydrated and your body is unable to replace the fluid and electrolytes it has lost. The signs of heat exhaustion include: heavy sweating, nausea, and feeling light-headed and faint.

If your body temperature continues to rise, you could develop heatstroke, a serious medical condition. Signs of heatstroke include fainting, a body temperature above 104° F, confusion, flushed skin, irritability, and acting delirious. If you’re around someone with signs of heat exhaustion, call 911.

Keeping Cool, Staying Happy

Staying safe in the summer heat can be a challenge. One of the best ways to make sure you’re safe is to stay indoors, in an air-conditioned building. But keeping inside during the long, hot days can make anyone feel trapped. How do you make the most of your time indoors in the summer?