4 Things to Know: How to Care for Older Adults in the Summer Heat

Happy first day of summer!

After a cold winter and the uncertainty of a global pandemic; it is easy to daydream about long days, cookouts, and hours on the beach. While summer can be fun in the sun for most of us, the summer heat can pose a serious danger for older adult populations.

When we were younger, most of us spent hours upon hours playing in direct heat without feeling overly uncomfortable, however as we age our body and its responses to higher temperatures changes. After the age of 65 the body produces less sweat, a vital defense mechanism against overheating. Many older adults also have underlying health conditions or medications resulting in higher susceptibility to heat related illness. Older adults are at a significantly higher risk for heat-related illness classified as hyperthermia. Hyperthermia occurs when a person’s temperature elevates and the body’s heat regulating mechanisms no longer work effectively. Hyperthermia can include heat stroke, heat edema, heat syncope, heat cramps, and heat exhaustion.

What to look for:

  • Body temperature above 104 degrees Fahrenheit

  • Fainting

  • Confusion or combativeness

  • Staggering when walking

  • Dry, flushed skin

  • Strong, rapid pulse

  • Rapid breath

  • Seizure

  • Low/ no sweat

  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

  • Dark colored urine

What to do if my loved one shows signs of hyperthermia:

  • Call 911 immediately

  • Move individual to an air-conditioned environment

  • Remove any unnecessary clothing

  • Apply icepacks to heat regulating body areas; armpits, groin, neck, and back

  • Do NOT submerge older adults in cold water or an ice bath

Tips to Prevent Heat Illness

1) Drink Plenty of Fluids.

Even if you do not feel thirsty, continuously drink water, sports drinks, or juice throughout the day. Avoid alcoholic or caffeinated beverages; caffeine can be dehydrating. You should drink enough to maintain a clear or lemonade-yellow colored urine. If your urine is dark like apple juice, increase fluids immediately.

2) Wear Light, Loose Clothing.

Dressing appropriately for hot weather will not only make you feel more comfortable, but will decrease chances of heat illness. Wear light colored, loose fitting, lightweight clothes. When possible wear a brimmed hat to keep the sun both out of eyes and off the neck.

3) Stay Indoors.

During the high sun hours or the day, remain indoors when possible. The best time for older adults to spend time outdoors is before 10 am and after 6 pm. If outside, always look for shade and the chance to stay out of direct sunlight.

4) Watch the Heat Index.

When there is high humidity, the body is less efficient in cooling itself through sweating. Tune in daily to local news and weather stations for updates and real time updates on heat index and weather reports regarding heat safety.