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Heat Safety Tips for Older Adults

Lone Star Family Health Heat Safety Tips for Older Adults Dr. Liu Profile

In the Texas heat, it's crucial for everyone, especially older adults, to take precautions to stay safe and healthy in hot weather. Older adults are more susceptible to heat-related illnesses, making it essential to be aware of warning signs and take appropriate measures. To help older adults stay safe in the heat, here are some hot weather safety tips:

1. Stay Hydrated: Older adults should drink plenty of fluids throughout the day, even if they don't feel thirsty, as they are already prone to dehydration in general. Water, clear juices, and drinks with electrolytes are excellent options. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks as this can worsen dehydration by making you urinate more. Loved ones, caregivers, and neighbors play a vital role in reminding and assisting older adults to stay adequately hydrated.

2. Stay Cool: Air conditioning is every Texan’s best friend in the heat. Try to minimize time spent outdoors when the heat is at its peak, usually between 10 AM to 4 PM. and instead seek areas with air-conditioning. This could be your own home, the library, recreational/community centers, indoor malls, movie theatre, etc. Other tips to keep your home cool include closing blinds/curtains and limiting use of the oven and stove. If you’re feeling warm, take a cool (not cold) shower, bath, or sponge bath. Alternatively, run a towel or washcloth under cool water and apply to the neck, armpits, ankles, and wrists.

3. Plan Outdoor Activities Carefully: If you need to go outside, schedule activities during the cooler parts of the day, such as early morning or late evening around sunset.

4. Dress Appropriately: Wear loose, lightweight, and light-colored clothing made of breathable materials like cotton rather than synthetic fibers. Top it off with a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses for additional protection from the sun.

5. Use Sunscreen: Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher to protect your skin from harmful UV rays and prevent sunburn. Remember to reapply regularly!

6. Be Aware of Medication Side Effects: Some medications can increase your sensitivity to the sun or affect your body's ability to regulate temperature. Speak with your primary care provider about any potential side effects and how to stay safe in the heat.

7. Check on Loved Ones: If you have elderly relatives or neighbors, check on them regularly during hot weather. Offer assistance if needed and make sure they are staying cool and hydrated.

It’s important to be aware of the signs of heat-related illnesses. Here are some common heat-related health problems and what to do if you or someone you know experiences them:

  • Dehydration: A condition that occurs when your body loses more water than it takes in. While it may seem harmless, dehydration can escalate into a severe and potentially life-threatening issue if left unaddressed. Common warning signs/symptoms include weakness, headache, dizziness, confusion, and loss of consciousness. When facing dehydration, it is crucial to replenish lost fluids and electrolytes with water and electrolyte-containing drinks such as Gatorade. If symptoms persist, call 911.
  • Heat syncope: Fainting caused by excessive heat exposure. Though less severe than heat stroke, it warrants attention. Should you experience dizziness or fainting while exposed to high temperatures, take immediate action by lying down, elevating your feet, and drinking cool fluids like water, juices, and Gatorade.
  • Heat exhaustion: A serious condition caused by excessive heat and dehydration. If left untreated, it can progress to heat stroke. It is characterized by fatigue, weakness, pale and cold/clammy skin along with the symptoms of dehydration. Relocate to a cool, shaded area and drink plenty of cool water and Gatorade. If you have a history of high blood pressure or heart problems, or if symptoms persist despite seeking shade and drinking fluids, call 911.
  • Heat stroke: A dangerous spike in body temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher that can be fatal if not treated promptly. In older adults, heat stroke may happen gradually over several days of prolonged exposure to extreme heat. Often seen with red, hot, and dry skin, a rapid pulse, and many of the same symptoms as seen with dehydration. If you suspect you or a loved one is suffering from heat stroke, call 911 immediately. Relocate to a cool, shaded area, and loosen or remove heavy clothing. Douse the body in cool water or apply cool towels to neck, armpits, ankles, and wrists. Encourage hydration with water and Gatorade while waiting for EMS if the person is conscious and able to swallow.
Connie Liu, M.D. (1)Dr. Liu is a resident physician who sees patients of all ages and provides obstetrical services at Lone Star Family Health Center, a non-profit 501©3 Federally Qualified Health Center operating facilities in Conroe, Spring, Willis, Grangerland, and Huntsville, and serving as home to a fully integrated Family Medicine Residency Program to increase the number of Family Medicine physicians for Texas and our community.