Hot weather is dangerous, and seniors are particularly prone to its threat. Elderly heat stroke and heat exhaustion are a real problem. In fact, a recent University of Chicago Medical Center study found that 40% of heat-related fatalities in the U.S. were among people over 65.
Seniors are more vulnerable to heat than others due to physical changes, a recent CBC News report warns. People’s ability to notice changes in their body temperature decreases with age and they don’t realize they are thirsty until they are really dehydrated, says Sarah Henderson, senior environmental scientist with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.
Fortunately, a few simple precautions are all that’s needed to keep safe.
Here are some guidelines for keeping safe in hot weather:
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 drinks, as they can actually contribute to dehydration. Crackers and tomato juice are great for replacing potassium and sodium that is lost through sweating.
Wear Appropriate Clothes
An old Swedish saying says, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” 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 10am or after 6pm, when the temperature tends to be cooler.
Take it Easy
Avoid exercise and strenuous activity, particularly outdoors, when it’s very hot out.
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. Henderson recommends misting the skin with a spray bottle if your environment isn’t air conditioned.
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.