When summertime temperatures start to sore, those who are age 65 and older have an elevated risk for heat-related health conditions that can be serious. Seniors — and those who care for them — should take extra precautions when summer heat arrives and should be on the alert for health problems and illnesses caused by excessive heat.
Why Seniors Overheat
When the body begins to overheat, hormones are released that cause sweating, which cools the skin and reduces internal body temperatures. In seniors, this system works less effectively. Because of this and other factors, seniors are more prone to heat-related illnesses than younger people. Reasons that seniors overheat can include:
• Decreased blood circulation
• Inefficient sweat glands
• Weakness or fever due to age-related illnesses such as heart, lung, or kidney disease
• Salt-restricted diet for high blood pressure
• Medications such as heart and blood pressure drugs, sedatives, and tranquilizers
• Being overweight or underweight
• Overdressing for the weather
• Living in hot conditions
Symptoms of Overheating
To ensure heat-related conditions don’t develop into a serious health issue, it’s important to recognize symptoms of overheating early on and to take action before heat stroke occurs. Symptoms of overheating may include:
• Sudden dizziness
• Muscle spasms
• Cramps in the abdomen, arms, or legs
• Swelling in the ankles
• Lack of coordination
• Cold, clammy skin
Treating Heat-Related Health Problems
Depending on the symptoms, treatment for heat-related conditions can range from moving to a cool place and hydrating to calling 911 for emergency medical care. Health issues related to overheating include:
Not drinking enough fluids can lead to water loss in the body, resulting in weakness, headache, muscle cramps, dizziness, confusion, and fainting.
Treatment: Call your healthcare provider or 911. Drink plenty of water or sports drinks, which restore electrolytes and play an important role in regulating heartbeat.
Dehydration and overheating can cause heat exhaustion, which can develop into heat stroke if untreated. Signs of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating or no sweating, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, pale skin color, cold or clammy skin, dizziness, headache, nausea or vomiting, fast or weak pulse, and fainting.
Treatment: Move to a cool place and drink water or sports drinks. If you don’t feel better immediately or if you have high blood pressure or heart problems, call 911 immediately.
A body temperature of 103°F or above can be a deadly condition. Symptoms can include red and hot skin, fast pulse, headache, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, confusion, and fainting.
Treatment: Call 911 immediately. Until help arrives, move to a cool place and remove heavy clothes. Dampen clothes with water or place wet cloths on wrists, ankles, armpits, and neck to lower your temperature. Try to drink water or sports drinks, if you’re able to swallow.
Overheating Preventive Measures
Follow these tips to decrease your risk of overheating when temperatures start to rise.
• Check the forecast: Stay inside when outside temps are high.
• Stay cool: When it’s hot and humid outside, stay inside in an air-conditioned space or use fans to keep cool. Pull curtains or blinds to reduce heat from direct sunlight, open opposing windows for cross-ventilation, and open windows at night when the temperature drops.
• Don’t exercise in the heat: Exercise inside in an air-conditioned space on hot days or exercise in the early morning or evening when temperatures are lower.
• Dress cool: Wear lightweight and light-colored natural fabrics such as cotton.
• Drink lots of fluids: During hot days, increase your fluid intake, including water, juices, and hydrating drinks.
• Avoid caffeine and alcohol: These are diuretics that cause your body to lose fluids, so limit your intake in hot weather.
Stay healthy this summer by taking special care to keep cool and be well hydrated.