With much of the United States baking in extreme heat this summer, older adults and the people caring for them need to take extra precautions.
Seniors can decline rapidly, sometimes within minutes, when exposed to soaring temperatures, said Dr. Angela Catic, an assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
"As we get older, our bodies don't self-regulate temperature as well as when we were younger," Catic said in a college news release. "This is due to physiological changes, medical issues and prescription medications, which can interfere with regulating our body temperature and prevent perspiring, which helps us cool down."
In high temperatures, older adults are safest indoors in a place with air conditioning. If they don't have it at home, she said, they should go somewhere that does have air conditioning -- a friend or family member's house, or a public place such as a library, church or heat shelter.
Here Catic shares some other safety tips:
When home, keep the house cool with fans, drawn blinds and shades. Avoid using the stove or other appliances that radiate heat.
If you're healthy and choose to continue outdoor activities, avoid them when the sun is at its peak. It's better to go outside in the early morning or late evening when the sun sets.
Limit time spent outdoors in heat to a few minutes and cut back on outdoor time until the temperature improves. Drink plenty of fluids and use a broad-spectrum sunscreen starting at SPF 30. Wear a wide-brimmed hat that allows airflow, along with loose, breathable, light-colored clothing.
"Check in on older adults in your lives to make sure they're doing well. It's important for all of us with weather this extreme, but especially older adults, who can be affected relatively quickly," Catic said.
Watch for signs of heat stroke or heat exhaustion in older adults, who may show different symptoms from younger folks.
Older adults may have red, hot skin, fast heart rate, headache, lethargy or may faint. Heat exhaustion signs may include heavy sweating or no sweating at all, muscle cramps, weakness, feeling cold or clammy to the touch, dizziness, headache, nausea and vomiting.
If you suspect that you or an older adult is having heat-related issues, go to a cooler area as quickly as possible. Hydrate with non-caffeinated fluids, ideally water, juice or clear fluids. Remove any heavy clothing. Cool by dousing with cool water or putting cool cloths on forehead, wrists and ankles.
"If their temperature is elevated, that is a big concern," Catic said. "If they feel very ill [clammy, weak, dizzy, headache, nausea or vomiting], call 911 and seek medical attention immediately."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has additional high heat tips.
SOURCE: Baylor College of Medicine, news release, July 21, 2022