Through the long, cold winter, we enthusiastically anticipated the heat of summer. What a relief to finally throw open the windows and allow the warm breezes to blow through the house! Yet now that we are in the midst of the dog days of summer, it is necessary to make certain that we are aware of heat stroke symptoms and other heat-related issues that may severely impact seniors.
Why Humidity and Heat Impacts Seniors Differently
We all know that kids can spend hours playing outside in the summertime, hardly breaking a sweat. Young adults are out mowing the lawn, gardening, even exercising despite the heat. For older adults, however, there are physiological differences that dramatically raise the risk for dangerous health issues when the weather heats up. Poor circulation, chronic illnesses, inefficient sweat glands, medications, and more are common in aging, and can bring on:
- Heat stroke
- Heat edema
- Heat syncope
- Heat cramps
- Heat exhaustion
- And more
Signs to Watch For
Watch out for these symptoms anytime a senior you love spends time in warmer temperatures:
- A body temperature over 104 degrees Fahrenheit (indicating heat stroke)
- Confusion, agitation, and other behavioral changes
- Delirium or coma
- Flushed, dry skin
- A rapid, strong pulse
- Lack of sweating
How to Help
In the event that you notice these symptoms, the senior needs prompt medical attention. Call 911 and have the senior lie down in a cooler environment. Place a cool, damp cloth on the older adult’s wrists, neck, armpits, and groin. If at all possible, have the individual sip on water or juice, but nothing with alcohol or caffeine. A spray bottle full of chilled water may also be used to mist the individual.
The best plan of action, however, is prevention. Following these strategies will help older adults safely enjoy the summertime:
- Stay in an air-conditioned environment whenever possible, particularly throughout the hottest parts of the day. Outdoor activities can be planned for the morning hours or evening.
- Make sure the senior remains hydrated. Plain water in addition to carbohydrate-electrolyte beverages (like Gatorade) are best.
- When outside, seek out shaded locations and avoid over-exertion.
- Choose light-colored clothing in breathable materials, such as linen or cotton, along with a wide-brimmed hat.
- Always wear sunscreen.
- Make sure older adults are drinking an abundance of fluids
- Take care of meal preparation, housework, and other chores around the house
- Provide transportation to fun, air-conditioned outings such as museums, the mall, or the library
- Engage in pleasant activities in the home, such as arts and crafts and favorite hobbies and interests
- And many others