Summer and Heat Wave Safety for Seniors

Useful Heat Wave Information & Safety Tips

New York City is experiencing the first major heat wave of the 2017 summer season, and in an effort to help the community overcome the challenges of the coming days, the team at SelectCare Home Health Care Services has compiled this “cheat sheet” of useful heat wave information and safety tips.

Remember, the best way to stay safe in the summer is to be prepared and the following city and national websites are a great way to catch early warnings of future heat waves.

Know Your Summer Health Hazards

Summertime in the city presents three distinct health hazards:

  1. Heat – Hot weather is the most obvious danger during the warmer months, particularly for young children, older adults, those with cardiovascular conditions and people on some prescription drugs.
  1. Air Quality – At warmer temperatures, the ozone levels across the city can increase dramatically, having a major impact on those with asthma or other respiratory illnesses. Ozone levels are at their highest from the late afternoon into early evening.
  1. UV Exposure – UV rays from the summer sun might be great for getting a tan, but be sure not to have too much of a good thing. Intense, short-term exposure of uncovered skin to the sun can result in painful sunburns, while long-term exposure can result in serious skin cancers. People with fairer skin will usually be more susceptible to problems from UV exposure.

Health Warning Signs in the Summer Time

Dangerous summer conditions rarely come as a surprise.  By listening regularly for weather updates through local outlets or the New York City Emergency Management’s website, you can ensure you are prepared for potentially dangerous conditions. Below are the warning systems for summer health hazards:

Heat Warnings – The National Weather Service designates Heat Waves as any time the high temperature is expected to exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit for three consecutive days.  Heat Advisories are posted in New York City any time the city’s Heat Index (a “real feel” measure that combines heat and humidity) is between 95 and 99 degrees Fahrenheit for two consecutive days or exceeds 100 degrees for any period of time.

In the event of a heat warning, local news outlets alert the public, while the city will open “cooling centers,” usually air conditioned libraries, schools, and senior centers for anyone who does not have access to air conditioning.

Air Quality Warnings – NYC Air Quality is measured by the NY Department of Conservation and uses an Air Quality Index to indicate the level of pollutants in the air.  These warnings are relatively common in the summer, so avoiding peak pollution time in the late afternoon or early evening for strenuous outdoor work is always a healthy decision.

UV Warnings – Remember, sunburns can happen whether or not there are clouds in the air. The National Weather Service dispatches a daily UV Index report, however caution should be used any time someone with sensitive skin plans to spend extended periods of time outside.

Staying Safe in The Summer Heat

Below are some tips that will help you avoid complications when faced with summer’s three most common health hazards.

  1. Heat Safety

The air conditioner is your best friend during the summer. It is recommended that you run your air conditioner’s thermostat at about 78 degrees Fahrenheit.  While this is still rather warm, it lowers energy use and can prevent power outages.

For those without air conditioners: the city opens cooling centers, air conditioned public buildings, to the public any time the heat index reaches dangerous levels.  To learn where your nearest cooling center is located, call 311.

Be sure to drink lots of fluids throughout the day, especially water.  As we age, we become less sensitive to thirst, so be sure to have a glass before you feel thirsty.

If you are on any prescription medication, it is recommended you speak to your doctor and find out if the higher temperatures will impact your medication.  Some medication needs to be stored at a specific temperature, while others can impact how your body regulates its heat or hydration levels.

Signs of possible heat illness include:

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

Call 911 any time you see someone experiencing the following symptoms of heat illness:

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

2.  Air Quality Safety

If you plan on performing strenuous activities outside, those most sensitive to air pollution should schedule those activities for the early morning hours, when ozone and other air pollutants are present at lower levels.

Those with respiratory illnesses and/or asthma should be especially aware of air quality and remain in cool, air conditioned locations with well-filtered air.

  • If someone with a respiratory condition shows any of the following symptoms, you should call 911 immediately:
    • Chest pain
    • Coughing and wheezing
    • Lung and nasal congestion
    • Labored breathing
    • Nausea
    • Eye and nose irritation
    • Faster breathing
    • Sore throat

3. UV Safety

Our exposure to UV rays is nearly constant, so it wearing low-intensity sunscreen (SPF 15) any time you plan to leave your home is a good idea.

Alternatively, wearing light, loose clothing that covers the majority of your skin and a hat to keep the sun off your face and head will help avoid painful sunburns

SelectCare Home Health Care Services of NY hopes this quick guide helps everyone in our community weather the current heat with safety and confidence.  Remember, when the temperature gets hot, it’s everyone’s responsibility to look out for one another.  If you know of an older neighbor, or anyone living alone, don’t be afraid to check in on them and ensure they are managing the weather well.

SelectCare’s team of home health care experts have been helping seniors live happier, healthier lives in the independence of their long-time homes for more than 30 years.  To learn how SelectCare’s dedicated staff can make a difference in your life, call SelectCare today or request a free home health care guide.


Read more about senior-specific heat safety here