For many older adults living in homes without air-conditioning or proper ventilation, the dog days of summer can prove not only to be insufferable but downright life threatening. Staying cool during extreme temperatures means learning to beat the heat.
Summertime can be anything but easy for many seniors struggling to stay cool when temperatures and humidity levels start to climb. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 40 percent of all heat-related deaths in the United States occur in people older than 65. Even more startling is the fact that each year scorching summer temperatures claim more lives in the U.S. than all natural disasters combined, including floods, lightning, tornadoes and hurricanes.
Many seniors with serious health complications or chronic medical conditions related to heart, circulation or pulmonary issues, or who take prescription medications on a daily basis could be more susceptible to heat-related illnesses. Research shows that cardiovascular problems are a contributing factor in the majority of heat-related deaths among older adults.
As seniors’ body temperatures begin to rise due to intense heat or sudden changes in temperature, their bodies can lose ability to cool down due to dehydration or failure to perspire. A heatstroke occurs when a person’s body temperature exceeds 104 degrees Fahrenheit—which can happen in less than 15 minutes and can result in death or permanent disability if not treated immediately. Heatstroke or exhaustion in seniors can cause seizures and should be treated as a medical emergency.
Signs of a heat stroke include:
• Dark urine
• Dry, flushed skin
• High temperature
• Rapid pulse
Playing It Cool
While air conditioning may seem like an obvious solution to staying cool in the summer, many seniors living alone or on a fixed income can’t afford the added expense of running AC units. Family members, neighbors or caretakers should ensure seniors stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of liquids and using house fans. Other helpful precautions include:
• Avoiding using lights, stoves or other appliances during the heat of the day by preparing hot meals at night
• Blocking out the sun with curtains or shades to reduce indoor temperatures
• Taking a cool shower during the afternoon
• Visiting air-conditioned public places, such as the library, shopping mall or recreation center during the hottest portions of the day
• Wearing lightweight clothing and sunscreen