Avoiding the heat-related illnesses of summer

Heatstroke, exhaustion and cramps are more common in adults age 65 or older

  • Older bodies don’t adjust as easily to sudden temperature changes.
  • Staying hydrated is one of the most effective strategies to beat the heat.
  • Seek medical attention immediately if you have signs of heatstroke.

[3 MIN READ] 

It’s summertime. And despite what the song says, the living is anything but easy if the season’s high temperatures are making you sick.

Excessive heat is not safe for anyone—regardless of their age—but if you’re age 65 or older, the heat waves of summer can have a much greater impact on your health than they did when you were younger. Information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that older adults experience more adverse effects from the heat than young people do because seniors:

  • Do not adjust easily to sudden temperature changes
  • Are more likely to have a chronic medical condition that worsens with excessive heat
  • Are more likely to take prescription medication that reduces their body's ability to regulate its temperature

Luckily, this doesn’t mean you have to avoid summer activities and huddle in the air conditioning the entire season. Following a few precautions can help you keep your cool all summer long.

Types of heat-related illness

Statistics from the CDC indicate that most heat-related illness occurs during July and August. Knowing the different conditions and their signs can help you prevent a heat-related health emergency.

Heatstroke

Heatstroke is a life-threatening illness that causes your body temperature to rise to dangerous levels in minutes. If you experience signs of heatstroke, seek medical attention immediately.

Symptoms include:

  • A body temperature of 103°F or higher
  • Hot, red, dry skin
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Mental confusion
  • Losing consciousness

Heat exhaustion

Heat exhaustion occurs after you’re exposed to high temperatures and insufficient fluids for several days. If left untreated, heat exhaustion can become heatstroke. 

Symptoms include:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Rapid breathing
  • Rapid, weak pulse
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Muscle cramps
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Losing consciousness

Heat cramps

Heat cramps are muscle spasms that occur while you’re exercising. They are most common in your legs, arms or abdomen.

Symptoms include:

  • Heavy sweating during exercise
  • Extreme muscle pain
  • Muscle spasms

Heat rash

Heat rash causes skin irritation from excessive sweating.

Symptoms include:

  • Red clusters of small blisters
  • A rash that typically occurs on the neck, chest, groin or elbow creases

Staying cool

One of the best ways to minimize the heat's effect is by staying hydrated. Keeping your fluid intake up during the hottest days of summer can help you avoid multiple health issues. Drink lots of water and avoid too much alcohol or caffeine, which can be dehydrating. Using a small cup that you refill often can often help encourage more fluid intake than a larger container that can be intimidating.

One of the best ways to minimize the heat's effect is by staying hydrated. Keeping your fluid intake up during the hottest days of summer can help you avoid multiple health issues. 

Other ways older adults can beat the heat include:

  • Stay inside during the hottest part of the day.
  • Find the shade if you’re outside while it’s sunny.
  • Go for a swim or take a cool shower.
  • Wear light-colored, lightweight fabrics and loose-fitting clothing.
  • Bring a handheld fan with you on outings.

Air conditioning offers relief for summer’s hottest days. If you need help paying for home cooling, contact the National Energy Assistance Referral service or your local Area Agency on Aging for assistance.

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Related Resources

Don’t let heat exhaustion spoil your fun

When you’ve overdone your time in the sun

4 ways to stay hydrated this summer

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

From how to identify and treat heart diseases to exercise tips to maintain an active lifestyle, the Providence Senior's Health team is committed to providing real-world advice that is hyper-relevant to helping those 65+ find ways stay young at heart

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