Helping Seniors To Beat the Summer Heat

Compiled by Ron Clyma, Area 4 Agency on Aging

We’ve heard it so many times it has almost become a cliché: seniors need extra attention in the searing summer heat. But how many of us know what signs should alert us to the serious problems that summer temperatures can bring to seniors in our care?

Edema Hands, feet and ankles may swell. Usually harmless and goes away as the individual adjusts to changing temperatures.

Syncope Faintness, dizziness. Usually not serious. Less likely once the individual is used to the heat, but be alert to complications.

Rash Excess sweating when it is hot and humid irritates thinning skin, which appears red, often with small pimples. Keep dry and use powder. Lotions and creams tend to make the rash worse.

Cramps Activity and sweating change the water and salt balance in the body causing cramping in the abdomen, arms or legs. If the senior has heart problems or is on a low-salt diet, seek medical help. Otherwise, resting in a cool place, drinking liquids, and gently stretching helps.

Exhaustion Prolonged high heat and insufficient liquids may cause heavy sweating, paleness, cramps, muscle pain, irritableness, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea, fainting, cool, moist skin. Cool the entire body by shower or bath, stay in an air conditioned area. If symptoms worsen or last longer than an hour, get medical attention. Those with heart problems or high blood pressure should seek immediate medical help.

Heat Stroke The most serious heat illness, which occurs when the body is so overheated that it cannot regulate its temperature. Seniors may have a fever above 103 degrees, but not sweat. Hot, red, dry skin, throbbing headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion, hallucinations, aggression, and ultimately, unconsciousness may occur. Heath stroke is an emergency. Call 911 and cool the senior’s body as rapidly and completely as possible.

None of this information takes the place of forewarning. To avoid heat illness, keep track of the weather forecast so that you know whenever a heat wave is coming. Follow the eight simples steps to beat the heat outlined by the Center for Disease Control listed below, and, of course, know your senior’s medical history thoroughly. Seniors should:

  1. Visit air-conditioned buildings in their community if their home is not air-conditioned.
  2. Take cool shower or bath if overheated.
  3. Drink plenty of water.
  4. Wear lightweight, light-colored and loose-fitting clothing.
  5. Avoid strenuous activities during a heat wave.
  6. Ask their health care provider if any of their medications increase their risk during excessive heat events.
  7. Watch for the warning symptoms outlined above.