Cincinnati has experienced oppressive heat over the last few weeks, even before the official start of summer. Heat index values have ranged from the mid-90s to nearly 100 degrees. While summer is a time to have fun and enjoy gatherings with family and friends, it’s also a time when people, in particular older adults, are susceptible to heat-related illnesses and complications.
Organizations that serve older adults, like the Ohio Department of Aging, recommend treating hot temperatures and high humidity as severe weather and taking extra precautions. The National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institute of Health (NIH), provides helpful information on staying well in warm weather. Here are some of their best tips for keeping cool during summer’s extreme heat.
“If you believe that you or someone you know may be suffering from a heat-related illness, take action immediately. Get the individual to a cool environment and call 9-1-1 for medical assistance.”
- Stay Hydrated: As an older adult, you are more susceptible to dehydration than younger people because you lose your ability to conserve water as you age. You can also become less aware of your thirst and have difficulty adjusting to temperature changes. Remember to drink water often, and be sure to pack bottles of water for those long summer drives.
- Talk to Your Physician: Check with your medical team to make sure any medications you are on won’t be affected by higher temperatures—especially if you don’t have air conditioning in your home. Some medications are less effective if stored at temperatures higher than room temperature (about 78 degrees Fahrenheit).
- Stay Cool: If your home is not air conditioned, use fans to circulate air and close curtains or blinds on the sides of your home where direct sunlight is coming in. Shopping malls, movie theaters, and libraries, provide welcome, cool spaces. Plus, the Mayerson JCC’s indoor spaces, senior center, and swimming pools are great places to keep cool. All these places afford a great opportunity to get out of the house and get some exercise without the exhaustion of the heat.
- Dress for the Weather: Everyone, including older adults, should dress for the hot sweltering summer months. When it’s hot, some people may find natural fabrics (such as cotton) to be cooler than synthetic fibers. Stock your summer wardrobe with light-colored and loose-fitting clothes to help feel cooler and more comfortable.
- Protect Your Eyes: Vision loss can be common among older adults, and too much exposure to the sun can irritate eyes and cause further damage. Wearing sunglasses can protect your eyes from harmful UV rays and preserve your vision.
- Put on Sunscreen and Wear Hats: Everyone, young and old, should wear sunscreen when outdoors. Older adults especially need the extra sun protection to help keep them healthy. Use broad spectrum sunscreen with sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. Caregivers, family members, and friends can help by gently reminding loved ones about applying sunscreen and helping to put it on when necessary. Hats are also a great idea, especially for those who might not have a full head of hair.
- Know the Risks of Hyperthermia: During the summer, it is particularly important to take precautions about abnormally high body temperatures—a condition known as Heat stroke is an advanced form of hyperthermia that can be life-threatening.
Older adults have a harder time knowing when they are dehydrated, and their bodies have more difficulty regulating their temperatures. Make sure you know the warning signs including:
- Body temperature greater than 104 degrees
- A change in behavior, such as acting confused, agitated or grouchy
- Dry, flushed skin
- Nausea and vomiting
- Heavy breathing or a rapid pulse
- Not sweating, even if it’s hot out
If you believe that you or someone you know may be suffering from a heat-related illness, take action immediately. Get the individual to a cool environment and call 9-1-1 for medical assistance.
- Listen to Weather Reports: If the temperature or humidity is going up, or an air pollution alert is in effect, you are at increased risk for a heat-related illness. Play it safe by checking the weather report before going outside.
During the summer months, when extreme weather (which includes very hot days) is in effect, caregivers should check on the health and welfare of their loved ones at least twice a day. Helping your loved ones take the proper precautions can bring great joy and lasting memories of a wonderful, fun-filled summer.
If you have more questions about how to stay cool this summer, call AgeWell Cincinnati.