How to Prepare for Extreme Heat: A Guide for Older Adults

Temperatures and humidity levels are on the rise, making now the ideal time to ensure you and your loved ones are prepared for the hot summer months.

While hot summer days may invoke memories of trips to the beach or a cold drink by a pool, the reality is that prolonged exposure to temperatures above 90 F and humidity levels above 50% can pose significant health hazards to individuals at any age, and older adults in particular.

Read on to learn why older adults are more sensitive to extreme heat, as well as steps you can take to remain safe while enjoying the summer season.Summer Heat in New York City

Extreme heat and older adults

While heat-related illness like heat exhaustion, dehydration, and sun stroke can affect individuals at any age, several common factors make older adults more vulnerable to these hazards:

  • Older adults are more prone to dehydration because their bodies retain less water overall, and because we tend to become less sensitive to thirst as we age. Dehydration puts a strain on the body’s cardiovascular and renal systems, potentially exacerbating pre-existing medical conditions.

To avoid dehydration, older adults need to make a conscious effort to drink more water, up to a glass an hour, during extreme heat and humidity.

  • Some prescription medicines can make an individual more prone to dehydration by further limiting their body’s ability to retain water. These medications include diuretics, as well as many drugs used to manage cardiovascular illness and Parkinson’s disease.

If you take any prescription medication, consider asking your doctor how they may affect your body during elevated heat and humidity.

  • Older adults experience higher levels of social isolation than any other age group. This isolation can make it harder to notice the early signs of heat illness and prevent timely intervention.

Warning signs of heat illness

Heat illnesses become progressively worse over time, so knowing the most common symptoms is a critical element of prevention. These symptoms include:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Muscle cramps
  • Light headedness, feeling faint
  • Headache
  • Decreased energy
  • Loss of appetite, nausea

When to seek help

It’s normal to feel a little uncomfortable during periods of extreme heat and humidity, however the following symptoms indicate a person may need immediate medical intervention.

You should contact 911 immediately if you or someone else is experiencing:

  • Hot, dry skin OR cold, clammy skin
  • Confusion, hallucinations, disorientation
  • Unconscious or unresponsive
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Trouble breathing
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness

If someone is experiencing these symptoms, especially an older adult or young child, they should be moved to an air-conditioned space immediately and hydrated with cold water while you call for medical assistance.

Spraying cool water on the person, or offering them cool, wet sponges to place on the back of their neck, head and armpits can also help lower the person’s temperature while you wait for help to arrive.

How to beat the heat

  • Sign up for a local emergency alert service like Notify NYC to ensure you are not caught unprepared by a heat wave.
  • Temperatures reach their peak between 11 am and 4 pm during the summer months. If possible, try to avoid outdoor activities and errands during this time.
  • Air conditioning is the best way to stay cool during a heatwave, but be conscious of how much electricity you are using. Keeping the temperature set to between 78 and 80 F should keep a space safe without overtaxing your local power grid.
  • Dress for the weather by wearing loose, light clothing that breathes, as well as a hat that protects your face and neck from the sun.
  • While soda, beer, coffee, and tea can all be refreshing on a hot day, experts recommend sticking to plain water as much as possible, as these common drinks can contribute to further dehydration.
  • Stay in contact with friends or family members by phone so others know you are handling the heat safely. Ideally, arrange for a friend, family member, or neighbor to visit you throughout the heatwave to take stock of your condition and help if needed.
  • If you do not have sufficient air conditioning or ventilation, visit NY Emergency Management’s Cooling Center page to learn about public, air-conditioned facilities where you can wait out the worst of the heat safely.

SelectCare hopes you have found these guidelines useful as we enter the summer season.  Our team of home health care experts have helped New Yorkers live happier, healthier lives in their long-time homes for nearly 40 years. To learn more, call SelectCare today, request a free in-home care guide, or read testimonials from our clients and their families.