Summer’s here and the heat is on. While the warmth can feel welcome after a long cold winter, hot weather is dangerous for those over 65, very young children, and those with chronic illnesses. Extreme heat causes more deaths in the US than tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and lightning combined, and 40% of heat-related fatalities are among those 65 and older—particularly men and those living alone.
Why is heat so hard on those who are older? Our ability to recognize changes in body temperature decreases with age, so we may not realize that we’re getting too hot until our temperature has already risen to dangerous levels. Many medications that are often prescribed to seniors can contribute to dehydration, and conditions common to older persons, such as high blood pressure, can also have an effect on the ability to regulate temperature.
So how do you beat the heat?
Take up drinking. Drink lots of liquids like water or juice, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Avoid caffeinated and alcoholic drinks, because they can actually cause dehydration.
Take shelter. Stay indoors and crank up the AC. Avoid going out during the hottest times of day; try to run errands and get outdoor activities in before 10 am and after 6pm, when the weather’s not as hot. If you don’t have AC, visit a public place that does—this is the perfect time to visit the library or a museum. You can also take a cool bath or shower. Open windows at night and pull the curtains by day.
Take it easy. Avoid exercising or strenuous activity outdoors, particularly in the heat of the day.
Dress for the occasion. Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothes in light colors, and bring back hats. Wide-brimmed ones.
The heat index is your fair-weather friend. If you watch the weather forecast during the summer months, you’ve probably heard the term “heat index” mentioned during heat waves. High humidity affects the body’s ability to cool itself through sweating. The heat index takes both humidity and temperature into account when determining how the weather feels to the human body. It’s like the wind chill factor in winter.
Be a good neighbor. Seniors who live alone are more vulnerable to heat-related stress. If you have an elderly neighbor at risk, check on him or her twice a day during a heat wave.
Just taking a few common-sense precautions can see you safely through the hottest months of summer.