People aged 65 or older are more prone to heat-related health concerns. Older adults can’t adjust to sudden temperature changes as fast as younger people. This may happen because of certain medicines they take or chronic illnesses that affect their ability to regulate body temperature. When not treated properly, heat-related illnesses can lead to death. But you can take steps to stay cool during hot weather.
Signs and Symptoms of Heat-Related Illness
- Heat syncope, or sudden dizziness.
- Heat cramps.
- Heat edema, or swelling in your legs and ankles.
- Heat exhaustion—when your body can no longer stay cool. This often appears as feeling thirsty, dizzy, weak, uncoordinated, or nauseated. You may sweat a lot and have cold and clammy skin or a rapid pulse.
- Heat stroke, which is a medical emergency. Signs can include fainting, behavior changes, high body temperature (over 104° F), dry skin, a strong and rapid pulse, a slow and weak pulse, and no longer sweating even though it’s hot.
How to Stay Cool If You Are an Older Adult
- Drink water regularly. Do NOT wait until you’re thirsty to start drinking water.
- Avoid using your oven or stove to prepare meals.
- Wear loose-fitting clothes.
- Take showers to cool down.
- Maintain the heating and air conditioning system in your home, so your home cools properly.
- If you don’t have air conditioning, consider staying with a friend or family member during a heatwave. It may be enough to take an “air conditioning break” at a local mall or library during the heat of the day.
- Don’t overwork yourself, and make sure you rest.
- Have others check up on you, and vice versa.
- Wear sunscreen and clothing to protect yourself from sunburns, which make it hard for your body to cool down.
- When outside in the heat, wear a hat, try to stay in the shade, and move slowly so you won’t become overheated.
Seek medical care immediately if you have symptoms of heat-related illness like muscle cramps, dizziness, headaches, nausea, weakness, or vomiting.
How to help an Older Adult Avoid Heat-Related Illness
As a friend, family member, or caregiver, you can help an older adult avoid heat-related illness during the warmer months. Some things you can do are:
- Know what medicines they are taking and find out if they affect body temperature.
- Call or connect regularly and ask if they are cool enough. Listen for patterns or shared concerns. Consider having a remote body or home temperature sensor or monitor installed.
- If you don’t live nearby, have the contact information for someone who does and who can regularly check in on them.
- Complete a care plan together to provide structure and direction. The care plan should include ways to stay cool during extreme heat and should note if any medicines the person takes may affect body temperature regulation.
- If you are the one checking in on older adult, make sure they
- Stay hydrated
- Have the living space set to a comfortable temperature
- Know how to stay cool during extreme heat
- Don’t show signs of heat stress
- Seek medical care immediately if the person has symptoms of heat-related illness like muscle cramps, dizziness, headaches, nausea, weakness, or vomiting.
How to Help Someone with Dementia Avoid Heat-Related Illness
About 25% of people with dementia live alone, and they may not always have awareness about their surroundings. Learn how to make a home safety checklistexternal icon for someone with Alzheimer’s or related dementias. During the warmer months:
- If the person is using a portable fan, make sure that objects can’t be placed in the blades. Place fans near electrical outlets to avoid using an extension cord. If an extension cord must be used, attach it to the baseboards to reduce the risk of tripping.
- Install alarms that alert you if a door or window is opened. This can reduce the risk of wandering in hot weather and keep cool air inside the home.
- Fence off swimming pools with a locked gate, cover if possible, and closely monitor the person when they are in the pool.
- Hide an extra key outside the home in case the person with dementia locks the door and a caregiver or emergency responder needs to get inside.
- Keep a list of all medicines the person takes and ask the doctor if any of them increase the risk of becoming overheated.
To learn more, please visit https://www.cdc.gov/aging/emergency-preparedness/older-adults-extreme-heat/index.html.