Excessive heat is unsafe for anyone. However, it poses additional health and safety risks for older adults.
If you have an elderly loved one living in a hot climate like Florida's, you're likely concerned about how to keep them hydrated and healthy during the sweltering summer months. Here's how to help seniors stay safe in the heat.
Warning signs and symptoms of heat-related illness
Here are some of the most common heat-related illnesses to look out for:
Heatstroke occurs when the body is unable to control its temperature through sweating. It is the most serious heat-related illness. Some warning signs and symptoms of heatstroke include:
● Body temperature of 103° or higher
● Skin that is hot, red, and dry or damp (not sweating)
● Rapid, strong pulse
● Throbbing headache
● Loss of consciousness
Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness. It typically develops after extended exposure to high temperatures and inadequate fluid replacement. Keep an eye out for the following symptoms:
● Heavy sweating
● Skin that is cold, pale, and clammy
● Fast, weak pulse
● Nausea and/or vomiting
● Muscle cramps
● Tiredness or weakness
Heat cramps are muscle pains or spasms that occur during strenuous activity in hot environments. These cramps may present as:
● Heavy sweating during intense exercise
● Muscle pain and/or spasms
Sunburn is one of the most common heat-related illnesses and can range from mild to severe. It usually appears within a few hours after excessive heat exposure. Keep an eye out for:
● Skin that is painful, red or pink, and warm to the touch
● Blisters on the skin
● Headache, fever, nausea, and/or fatigue (if sunburn is severe)
Heat rash occurs when blocked pores trap sweat underneath the skin. This may look like:
● Red clusters of small blisters, which look like pimples on the skin
● Clusters typically occur in elbow creases or on the neck, chest, or groin
Risk factors for heat-related illness
Some risk factors for heat-related illness include:
● Environmental factors. Direct sun exposure and high temperatures, especially with high humidity, are the most common culprit of heat-related illness.
● Activities. High exertion with little rest, as well as repeated strenuous activity in the heat, can impact the risk of heat-related illness.
● Medications. Certain medications — including those for colds/allergies, blood pressure, depression, and dizziness/vertigo — can affect heat tolerance.
● Age and health conditions. Individuals who are over the age of 60, have poor physical fitness, and have chronic conditions such as diabetes or heart disease are all at higher risk of heat-related illness.
Tips for preventing heat-related illness in older adults
While heat-related illness can be dangerous, a few simple precautions can help keep your elderly loved one safe:
1. Keep them hydrated and healthy.
Dehydration causes many heat-related health problems, especially in seniors. Make sure that your loved one has consistent access to water, 100% juice drinks, and sports drinks high in electrolytes. It is also best to limit alcohol and caffeinated drinks.
2. Have them wear appropriate clothes.
Loose-fitting, light-colored clothing in lightweight materials can help older adults keep cooler in the heat. Accessories like hats, sunglasses, and umbrellas can also prevent sunburn and other heat-related illnesses by limiting sun exposure.
3. Keep them indoors during midday hours.
Temperatures tend to be hottest between 11:00 am and 6:00 pm, so consider having your loved one stay indoors during these hours. Closing the windows and blinds, as well as turning off artificial lighting and electronics, can help beat the heat while inside.
4. Pay attention to heat index and dew point.
Humidity can significantly impact how hot it feels outside, so keep an eye out for the heat index and dew point. Many weather apps and websites will list the heat index (or “feels like”) alongside the actual temperature. Additionally, a higher dew point indicates more moisture in the air, making the climate feel more humid.
Find the right senior living community for your loved one this summer. Contact Welcome Home Senior Services & Placement Co. today to speak with a senior placement specialist, who can connect you with any of the hundreds of the Florida communities we represent.