Hot summer weather can pose additional health risks to older adults and people with chronic medical conditions. It’s important that adults susceptible to hyperthermia and other heat-related illnesses know how to prevent problems.
The National Institute on Aging offers these tips to help avoid hot weather hazards:
Hyperthermia is caused when the heat-regulating mechanisms of the body fail. Heat fatigue, sudden dizziness after a long exposure to heat, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke are forms of hyperthermia. Older adults are at risk for these conditions, and they’re risk can increase due to higher temperature, individual lifestyle, and general health.
Older people, especially those with chronic medical conditions, should stay indoors in cooler spaces on hot and humid days and during an air pollution alert. People without air conditioners should go to places that have air conditioning, such as senior centers, shopping malls, movie theaters, and libraries. Cooling centers, which may be set up in many communities, are another option.
Factors that increase the risk of hyperthermia may include:
- High blood pressure or other health conditions that require changes in diet. For example, people on salt-restricted diets may be at increased risk. However, salt pills shouldn’t be used without consulting a doctor.
- Heart, lung, and kidney diseases, as well as any illness that causes general weakness or fever.
- Use of multiple medications. Discuss possible problems with a physician.
- Reduced sweating,caused by medications such as diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers, and certain heart and blood pressure drugs.
- Age-related changes to the skin such as poor blood circulation and inefficient sweat glands.
- Being substantially overweight or underweight.
- Alcohol use.
Heat stroke is a life-threatening form of hyperthermia. It occurs when the body is overwhelmed by heat and unable to control its temperature. Signs and symptoms of heat stroke include a significant increase in body temperature, generally above 104 degrees Fahrenheit; changes in mental status, such as confusion or combativeness; strong rapid pulse; lack of sweating; dry flushed skin; feeling faint; staggering; or coma. Seek immediate emergency medical attention for a person with heat stroke symptoms, especially an older adult.
If you suspect that someone is suffering from a heat-related illness:
- Get the person out of the heat and into a shady, air-conditioned, or other cool place. Urge him or her to lie down.
- Call 911 if you suspect heat stroke.
- Encourage the individual to shower, bathe, or sponge off with cool water if it’s safe to do so.
- Apply a cold, wet cloth to the wrists, neck, armpits, and/or groin. These are places where blood passes close to the surface of the skin, and the cold cloths can help cool the blood.
- Offer fluids such as water, fruit and vegetable juices if the person can swallow safely. Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services helps eligible households pay for home cooling and heating costs. People interested in applying for assistance should contact their local or state LIHEAP agency or go to http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ocs/liheap.
For a copy of the NIA’s AgePage Series in English or in Spanish on hyperthermia, contact the NIA Information Center at 800-222-2225 or go to www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/hyperthermia-too-hot-your-health or www.nia.nih.gov/espanol/publicaciones/hipertermia.