Beat the heat - Summer tips to help older adults

Tuesday, July 8, 2014


Learn how to protect yourself and others during hot summer months

Weather in southwestern Ohio can be all over the map, especially during the spring and summer months.  It will be hot and humid one day, cool and rainy the next.  Even with a degree of unpredictability, it`s almost certain that we will see high temperatures climb into the upper 90s and even top 100 degrees.  When temperatures remain high for several days in a row, health and weather experts recommend that children, people with respiratory problems and the elderly stay indoors if possible. 

Tips for helping older adults prevent heat-related illness and injuries

During hot summer months, everyone should take care to protect themselves from heat-related illnesses and injuries. During this time, our elderly loved-ones, friends and neighbors (people age 65 and older) are more susceptible to heat-related illnesses and injuries, because:

  • Elderly people do not adjust as well as young people to sudden changes in temperature.
  • They are more likely to have a chronic medical condition that upsets normal body responses to heat.
  • They are more likely to take prescription medicines that impair the body`s ability to regulate its temperature or that inhibit perspiration.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature: the body`s temperature rises rapidly, the body loses its ability to sweat, and it is unable to cool down. Body temperatures rise to 106F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.
Warning signs vary but may include the following:

  • An extremely high body temperature (above 103F)
  • Red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating)
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids.

Warning signs vary but may include the following:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Paleness
  • Muscle Cramps
  • Tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fainting
  • Skin: may be cool and moist
  • Pulse rate: fast and weak
  • Breathing: fast and shallow

What you can do to protect yourself

You can follow these prevention tips to protect yourself from heat-related stress:

  • Drink cool, nonalcoholic beverages. (If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask him how much you should drink when the weather is hot. Also, avoid extremely cold liquids because they can cause cramps.)
  • Rest.
  • Take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath.
  • If possible, seek an air-conditioned environment. (If you don`t have air conditioning, consider visiting an air-conditioned shopping mall or public library to cool off.)
  • Visit a local cooling center, list of Cooling Centers in COA`s Resource Directory [add link]
  • Wear lightweight clothing.
  • If possible, remain indoors in the heat of the day.
  • Do not engage in strenuous activities.

What you can do for elderly friends and neighbors

If you have elderly relatives or neighbors, you can help them protect themselves from heat-related stress:

  • Visit older adults at risk at least twice a day and watch them for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
  • Take them to air-conditioned locations if they have transportation problems. Visit a local cooling center, list of Cooling Centers in COA`s Resource Directory
  • Make sure older adults have access to an electric fan whenever possible.

What you can do for someone with heat stress

If you see any signs of severe heat stress, you may be dealing with a life-threatening emergency. Have someone call for immediate medical assistance while you begin cooling the affected person. Do the following:

  • Get the person to a shady area.
  • Cool the person rapidly, using whatever methods you can. For example, immerse the person in a tub of cool water; place the person in a cool shower; spray the person with cool water from a garden hose; sponge the person with cool water; or if the humidity is low, wrap the person in a cool, wet sheet and fan him or her vigorously.
  • Monitor body temperature and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101F
  • If emergency medical personnel are delayed, call the hospital emergency room for further instructions.
  • Do not give the person alcohol to drink.
  • Get medical assistance as soon as possible.

(Content Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Extreme Heat)

Help with summer cooling costs 

Help with summer cooling costs is available to low-income and older Ohio residents starting July 1 through Aug. 31. 

The assistance is provided by the Ohio Department of Development`s annual Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) Summer Crisis Program, which provides a one time payment of up to $175 for electric bills to low-income and elderly residents who meet eligibility guidelines.  Last year, more than 42,000 Ohio residents received help through the HEAP Summer Crisis program.

For more information, contact your local community action agency or call 800-282-0880. [update link]

For more information:

CDC: Extreme Heat Web site

Help4Seniors Resource Directory: Beat the Heat resources

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