Each year I read about older adults who died from the heat. It is saddest when I hear that many of them died alone in apartments with all the windows closed, no fan, or air conditioning. Many that die do not have friends or relatives that can help. What can we do to prevent older adults from dying in hot weather?
Before we can help we need to understand that older adults are more prone to heat stress. According to the Center for Disease Control “older adults do not adjust as well as young people to sudden changes in temperature. Older adults are more likely to have a chronic medical condition that changes normal body responses to heat. Older adults are more likely to take prescription medicines that affect the body’s ability to control its temperature or sweat (Older, 2017).
It is important for neighbors, family, and friends to check up on older adults. You can help them by paying attention to the local news for weather updates and keeping an eye out for heat warnings. You can also provide an older adult with fans or an air conditioner. Many older adults keep their windows shut because of a fear of crime. Check and if that is true providing a window air conditioner may be the best help.
A Place for Mom provides recommendations for older adults to prevent heat injuries and death. These include (Elder, 2017):
- Drink Plenty of Liquids. Dehydration is the root of many heat related health problems. Drink plenty of water or juice, even if you’re not thirsty. But remember to avoid alcoholic or caffeinated beverages, as they can actually contribute to dehydration.
- Wear Appropriate Clothes. An old Swedish saying says, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad” When it’s hot out, wear light-colored, lightweight, loose-fitting clothes and a wide-brimmed hat.
- Stay Indoors During Mid-Day Hours. During periods of extreme heat, the best time to run errands or be outdoors is before 10 am or after 6 pm when the temperature tends to be cooler.
- Take it Easy. Avoid exercise and strenuous activity, particularly outdoors, when it’s very hot
- Watch the Heat Index. When there’s a lot of moisture in their air (high humidity), the body’s ability to cool itself through sweating is impaired. The heat index factors humidity and temperature to approximate how the how the weather really feels. The current heat index can be found on all popular weather websites and is also usually announced on local TV and radio weather reports during periods of warm weather.
- Seek Air-conditioned Environments. Seniors whose houses aren’t air-conditioned should consider finding an air-conditioned place to spend time during extreme heat. The mall, library or movie theater are all popular options. During heat waves, many cities also set up “cooling centers,” air-conditioned public places, for seniors and other vulnerable populations. Seniors without convenient access to any air-conditioned place might consider a cool bath or shower.
- Know the Warning Signs of Heat-related Illness. Dizziness, nausea, headache, rapid heartbeat, chest pain, fainting and breathing problems are all warning signs that help should be sought immediately.
The Center for Disease Control further recommends that if the older adult’ doctor limits the amount of fluids they can drink or has them on water pills, they should ask the doctor how much they should drink during hot weather (Older, 2017).
During this hot summer, please take some time to look out for the older adults in your life. They will appreciate, and it and their life just may depend on it. Today’s Caregiver says that “Elderly people (that is, people aged 65 years and older) are more prone to heat stress than younger people for several reasons (Heat, 2017):
- Elderly people do not adjust as well as young people to sudden changes in temperature.
- They are more likely to have a chronic medical condition that changes normal body responses to heat.
- They are more likely to take prescription medicines that impair the body’s ability to regulate its temperature or that inhibit perspiration.
Elderly Heat Stroke retrieved on July 15, 2017, from http://www.aplaceformom.com/senior-care-resources/articles/elderly-heat-stroke.
Heat Stress in the Elderly retrieved on July 15, 2017, from http://caregiver.com/articles/heat-stress-elderly/.
Older Adults Heat retrieved on July 15, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/older-adults-heat.html.