Seniors and those with chronic medical conditions often have difficulty regulating their body temperature which can make the summer months a more dangerous time for outdoor activities. It is important to have strategies to avoid overheating or becoming dehydrated.
The University of Chicago Medical Center recently found that 40% of the heat-related deaths in the United States were among those over 65 years old.
Why are seniors especially vulnerable?
According to the CDC, as we get older it is harder for our bodies to adjust to sudden changes in temperature quickly. Medical conditions can change the body’s ability to respond to heat appropriately. Prescription medications can also interfere with the body’s ability to sweat and regulate temperature.
Tips for staying cool
When there is a heat wave people of any age are advised to stay indoors during the hottest hours of the day (between 12-5pm) and avoiding strenuous activities.
For older adults, these tips can help reduce the risks that come with extreme heat:
- Drink plenty of cool water and avoid alcohol and caffeine. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty; stay hydrated throughout the day.
- Cool snacks such as fruit popsicles or frozen grapes could be a healthy and cooling way to beat the heat.
- Lighter, cooler meals are better than heavy, hot entrées. Cold salads and sandwiches are the best choice and you don’t have to use the oven which would only increase heat in the home.
- Use a cool washcloth on the back of your neck when you’re feeling overheated. Placing your feet in a pan of cool water is also a good way to cool down. (Just make sure it’s not too cold!)
- Keep the house as cool as possible. Keeping the shades closed during the hottest parts of the day helps your fans and air conditioners run more efficiently and less expensively.
- Wear light layers of clothing so it is easy to adjust to an increase in temperature. Cool cotton fabrics are lightweight and breathable. Avoid heavier polyester fabrics.
- When outdoors stay in the shade; use an umbrella if needed to block out some of the sun’s rays. Also wear a hat to protect your scalp!
- Cool showers, baths, and washcloths can help you feel cooler quickly. For maximum cooling, keep the water just below body temperature.
- Visiting a senior center, shopping mall or coffee shop is a great way to find a cool, air-conditioned environment (that is free!).