While warmer temperatures are conducive to outdoor activities enjoyed during the summer, they are also at the root of many health problems including heat stroke, dehydration and other heat-related illnesses (hyperthermia). Older adults are at an especially high risk for these conditions because as we age our bodies become less adept at adjusting to changes in temperature, especially heat. In addition, certain medications like diuretics and some blood pressure medicines taken by many seniors can interfere with the normal bodily response to heat, preventing perspiration and increasing the risk of heat stroke.
Follow these six tips to beat the heat:
- Talk with your doctor. Certain medications, lifestyle choices (low-salt diet) and/or chronic conditions like heart disease and kidney disease may place you at higher risk for heat-related illnesses. Discuss precautions with your doctor.
- Stay hydrated. Unless your doctor has told you to limit fluid intake, carry water with you and drink continuously even if you do not feel thirsty. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, as they dehydrate the body. Relatively clear urine signals adequate hydration.
- Limit outdoor exercise. Strenuous activity in extremely hot weather adds strain to the heart. If you are going to be active, choose the coolest part of the day—usually before 9 AM and after 7 PM. When you are active, take frequent breaks and drink water at regular intervals throughout. Water aerobics and other exercises in your local pool are great ways to stay fit, flexible and cool.
- Dress for the heat. Choose lightweight, loose-fitting materials to maximize air circulation. Light colors will reflect some of the sun's rays. Wearing a hat or using an umbrella can also help you keep cool.
- Stay cool. If you don’t have air conditioning, spend the hottest hours of the day (usually late afternoon) in an air-conditioned shopping center, senior center, library, movie theater, restaurant or place of worship. If you do not drive, consider hiring a professional caregiver so you do not have to wait outside in the heat for a bus. Open your windows at night and create a cross breeze by opening windows on opposite sides of the room or house. Take cool showers or baths.
- Know the warning signs. Symptoms of heat-related illnesses may include headache, muscle spasms, nausea, fatigue after heat exposure, lack of sweating and hot, red skin. If you notice any of these symptoms in a senior loved one, move the person into a cool place, offer water and encourage the person to dab his or her head and neck with a cool rag. If you suspect heat stroke, marked by the above symptoms as well as confusion, dizziness, seizures, high body temperature, rapid heartbeat or hallucinations, seek medical attention immediately.
The key to reducing your risk of these health issues is to adopt and maintain a healthy lifestyle all year long.