Beat the Heat: Hot Weather Tips for Seniors

Summer in Florida is upon us. There is no mistaking the fast-rising daily temperatures and afternoon storms that blow out as quickly as they blow in. It may be hot, but we can’t let the summer heat catch us unprepared.

Whether you are a native Floridian or new to our hot and humid state, a refresher on how to beat the heat and avoid heat-related illness is always a timely subject. Pour yourself a tall glass of ice water and let’s get into the why’s, what’s, and how’s of hot weather tips for seniors.

beat the heat

Why Do Seniors Have Difficulty Adjusting to Heat?

Older adults are more likely to have heat-related challenges than younger people. As we age, our bodies have a harder time regulating body temperature. Walk into an older person’s home and you’ll probably instantly feel the heat while they wear a cardigan and say it’s too cold. There’s an explanation for that.

Challenges to Heat Regulation

Medications

Chronic illness

Thinning skin

Decreased blood circulation

As people age, the fat layer under the skin begins to thin, making it difficult to regulate body heat. Thinning skin in combination with decreased circulation and chronic illness can make an older person feel cold, even when it is hot outside. However, because of this dysregulation, the temperature doesn’t have to be very high to put them at risk for heat-related illness.

3 Hot Weather Tips for Seniors

  1. Know your limits.
  2. Know the symptoms.
  3. Know what to do.
  4. Be aware of what raises your risk for heat-related illness.

1. While every senior is unique, there are a few common factors for heat-related illness that affect older adults.

As the weather heats up, take the time to review any health concerns with family and medical providers. Be aware of any conditions that may be more sensitive to the heat and put an older adult at greater risk.

Medications.  Talk to your doctor about medications that may make you more likely to become overheated or sunburned. This is a good time to review all medications with your provider and evaluate side effects versus effectiveness. Some medications such as diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers, and some high blood pressure medications can make it harder for the body to cool itself.

Health problems. Heat causes increased difficulties in seniors with cardiovascular, lung, or kidney disease. The stress of heat can increase strain on the heart and cardiovascular system, leading to a heart attack, irregular heart rhythm, stroke, and other heart problems. Increasing temperatures that lead to heat illness can result in a decline in kidney function, including kidney failure during severe heat stroke. Extreme heat also affects the lungs of older adults making breathing more difficult and worsening conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer.

Dehydration.  This is dangerous at any age, but seniors are at greater risk than any other age group. When we don’t drink enough water, our water content gets too low causing damage. Mild dehydration may be easy to recover from, but severe dehydration requires medical attention.

Reasons for Greater Risk of Dehydration

Diminished thirst signal

Body function

Medication side-effects

Decreased cognitive ability

The best way to avoid dehydration is to actively increase fluid intake each day. Whether you drink more water or eat high-water content foods, incorporate plenty of each into the daily routine. Drinking more water must become a habit – set reminders on your phone, add flavors to make it more interesting, and talk to your doctor about ways to improve your diet, habits, and medications to help you reach your hydration goals.

beat the heat

2. Be familiar with the symptoms of common heat-related illnesses.

While no state income tax is a big draw for seniors moving to Florida, our tropical weather is what retirement dreams are made of. In fact, Florida is home to the fastest-growing retirement community in the United States. (Calm down, The Villages – we see you.) With this many older adults flocking to the Sunshine State, it’s important to be familiar with the symptoms of common heat-related illnesses.

Syncope. This sudden dizziness can occur when you are active in hot weather. It can cause fainting in those who take beta blockers or are not acclimated to hot weather. If you begin to feel dizzy, rest in a cool place with your feet up and drink plenty of water.

Cramps. These painful tightening or spasms of muscles can occur in your stomach, arms, or legs. Though you may not feel a change in body temperature or pulse, your skin may feel moist and cool. Stop physical activity and rest in the shade while drinking plenty of water or a sports drink containing electrolytes.

Rash. Heavy sweating can cause skin irritation in the form of small blisters on the skin. You may feel itchy or tingling pain. Stay in a cool area, keep the area dry, and apply powder to soothe the rash.

Exhaustion. Heat exhaustion can quickly lead to heat stroke so caution is necessary if you are experiencing symptoms. You may feel thirsty, dizzy, weak, and uncoordinated – all signs that your body can no longer keep itself cool. Rest in a cool place and drink plenty of fluids. Seek medical attention if the symptoms don’t resolve quickly after resting.

Heat Stroke. This is a medical emergency signaled by fainting, confusion or acting strangely, dry, flushed, dry skin and a strong, rapid pulse (or slow, weak pulse). The body temperature has risen above 104 degrees and should be cooled down with a cool bath or shower and fans. Seek medical help and immediately move to a cooler place, such as in the shade or indoors.

Sun exposure. This reddening of the skin is also known as sunburn. It can develop into blisters, start to peel, and still be warm to the touch. Severe sunburning can cause fever, chills, or nausea. Avoid sun exposure with an SPF of 15 or higher, reapplied often, and protective clothing. Limit your exposure by staying out of direct sunlight.

3. We can’t avoid the sun forever in Florida so know what to do.

One simple way to decrease your exposure to the summer heat is to limit your time out and about in the middle of the day. Tend to your garden or get your steps in early in the morning or wait until the evening to venture out to check the mail and tidy the trash cans. There are plenty of opportunities for indoor exercise, so you won’t miss a minute of your exercise routine.

Drink plenty of fluids. You can make your water more interesting by adding fruit such as lemon or lime to enhance the taste. Even adding herbs like mint or basil can change up the flavor and keep you pouring all day long. Sports drinks with electrolytes are especially good if you are going to be out in the heat for any length of time to walk the dog or get to the grocery store.

Keep your space cool. Keep your blinds or curtains closed during the hottest part of the day and limit use of the oven. If your home tends to run hot, spend the midday hours in a place with air conditioning. Go to the mall, catch a movie, or snuggle up to the stacks in your local library. Summertime is the perfect time to make friends at the senior center – lots of friends and fun in the cool, cool air.

Dress cool. The hip style for summer is loose-fitting, lightweight clothing. Stick to cotton, linen, and other breathable fabrics to keep cool and stay weather-ready. Natural fabrics often feel cooler than synthetics so stock up on easy-to-wear clothes that won’t have you sweating.

Protect your skin. Apply SPF (15 and up) in the morning and throughout the day. Keep a hat and sunglasses on hand for any time you are outdoors. Long sleeve sun protection shirts can be ordered in an instant through Amazon right from your smartphone.

How Do I Prepare My Aging Parents for the Summer Heat?

Start having conversations now about how to keep your aging parents safe from the persistent summer sun. There are resources available that can help seniors age in place safely – even during the hot summer months. Set yourself – and the seniors you love – up for success with three invaluable resources.

Invaluable Resources for Seniors

Mobile Medical Provider

Private Duty Home Care

Case Management

Let a team of specialists support the older adults in your life. Private duty caregivers are ideal for keeping a safe, yet vibrant social calendar in place while keeping everyone hydrated. Mobile medical providers can come straight to your home for everything from medication reviews to in-home occupational therapy. If you need a little help coordinating these great services, contact a local case manager to make the calls, oversee the care, and keep you in the loop.

beat the heat

You are not alone. Get the support you need to not just survive but thrive through the sunny days of a Florida summer. Contact Champion Private Duty Home Care to get more information on staying safely at home in every season. Read more about the services of Private Duty Home Care in the Resources Section of our Blog.

 

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