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For Older Adults: You Can Beat the Heat

After age 65, your body can't adjust to changes in air temperature—especially heat—as quickly as it did when you were younger. That puts you at risk for heat-related illnesses.

You also may be at greater risk for heat-related illnesses if you have a long-term (chronic) health condition or take certain medicines that interfere with how the body normally responds to heat. Some medicines also restrict the body's ability to sweat.

But you can still enjoy a safe summer by being careful when it gets hot.

Unless your healthcare provider has told you to limit your fluids, drink plenty of cool liquids such as water, sports drinks, or fruit and vegetable juices. Don't wait until you're thirsty. Don't drink alcohol, because you'll lose much of the fluid it offers. Also don't have large amounts of caffeine.

Ways to keep cool

If you can't afford air conditioning:

  • Open your windows at night.

  • Create a cross breeze by opening windows on opposite sides of the room or house.

  • Cover windows when they're in direct sunlight. Keep curtains, shades, or blinds drawn during the hottest part of the day.

  • Dampen your clothing with water and sit in the breeze from a fan.

  • Spend at least 2 hours a day (the hottest part, if possible) in an air-conditioned place such as a library, senior center, or friend's house.

Ask your local area agency on aging if there's a program that gives window air conditioners to seniors who qualify. If you can't afford to run your air conditioner, contact your local area agency on aging or senior center. Ask if they know of programs that can help you with cooling bills.

Other ideas:

  • Ask a friend or family member to drive you to a cool place on very hot days if you don't drive. Many towns or counties, area agencies, religious groups, and senior centers also supply these services. Don't stand outside waiting for a bus.

  • Dress for the weather. Some people find natural fabrics such as cotton to be cooler than synthetic fibers. Light-colored clothes feel cooler than dark colors. If you aren't sure what to wear, ask a friend or family member for help.

  • Don't try to exercise, walk long distances, or do a lot when it's hot.

  • Stay out of the sun.

  • Take cool baths or showers.

  • Don't go to crowded places when it's hot outside.

  • Listen to weather and news reports. In times of extreme heat, there will often be local sites where people can go to cool down.

Who's at risk?

Your health and lifestyle may raise the threat of a heat-related illness. These health factors may increase your risk:

  • Poor circulation, inefficient sweat glands, and changes in the skin caused by normal aging.

  • Heart, lung, and kidney diseases, as well as any illness that causes weakness or fever.

  • High blood pressure or other conditions that need changes in diet. For example, people on low-salt diets may face an added risk (but don't use salt pills without asking your healthcare provider).

  • The inability to sweat caused by some medicines. These include water pills (diuretics), sedatives, tranquilizers, and some heart and blood pressure medicines.

  • Taking several medicines at once for different conditions. Don’t just stop taking them. Always talk with your healthcare provider.

  • Being substantially overweight or underweight

  • Drinking alcohol

  • Limited mobility, such as problems with walking that can make it hard to move out of hot environments.

How to handle heat illnesses

Heat stress, heat tiredness, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke are all forms of hyperthermia. This is the general name for a range of heat-related illnesses. Symptoms may include:

  • Headache

  • Nausea

  • Heavy sweating

  • Skin that is dry (no sweating), hot, and red

  • Muscle spasms

  • Extreme tiredness after exposure to heat

If you think someone has a heat-related illness:

  • Get the person out of the sun and heat and into a cool place—if possible, one that is air-conditioned.

  • Offer sips of fluids, but not alcohol or caffeine. Water, sports drinks, and fruit and vegetable juices are best.

  • Encourage the person to sponge off with cool water.

  • Urge the person to lie down and rest, if possible in a cool place.

Call 911

Call 911, or get emergency medical care right away if you suspect heat stroke. Possible symptoms of heat stroke include:

  • Headache

  • Dizziness

  • Confusion or agitation

  • Sluggishness or extreme tiredness

  • Seizure

  • Hot, dry skin that is flushed but not sweaty

  • High body temperature

  • Very fast heartbeat

  • Hallucinations

  • Fainting (loss of consciousness)

Online Medical Reviewer: Eric Perez MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Maryann Foley RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Ronald Karlin MD
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2021
© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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