Imagine Better Health Blog Post

Q&A: Summer Heat And the Elderly with Bushra Shah, MD

Oct 24, 2016

Hot weather is dangerous, and seniors are particularly prone to its threat. Elderly heat stroke and heat exhaustion are a real problem. In fact, a recent University of Chicago Medical Center study found that 40 percent of heat-related fatalities in the U.S. were among people over 65. 

Dr. Bushra Shah with CHI St. Vincent Longevity Clinic talks about summer heat.

As we move into summer, the temperatures go up. What should we be looking out for this summer in regards to hot weather?

Hot weather is dangerous, and seniors are particularly prone to its threat. Elderly heat stroke and heat exhaustion are a real problem.

In fact, a recent University of Chicago Medical Center study found that 40% of heat-related fatalities in the U.S. were among people over 65.

There are several reasons for elderly heat vulnerability. People's ability to notice changes in their body temperature decreases with age. Many seniors also have underlying health conditions that make them less able to adapt to heat. Furthermore, many medicines that seniors take can contribute to dehydration. Fortunately, a few simple precautions are all that's needed to keep safe.

What are some specific conditions that can affect seniors?

Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are the two biggest problems the elderly face in the summer. The symptoms of these include:

  • A core body temperature above 105 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Fainting
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness and light-headedness
  • Lack of sweating despite the heat
  • Red, hot, and dry skin
  • Muscle weakness or cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid heartbeat, which may be either strong or weak
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Behavioral changes such as confusion, disorientation, or staggering
  • Seizures

Do you have some tips for seniors to prevent heat exhaustion or heat stroke?

Drink Plenty of Liquids
Dehydration is the root of many heat related health problems. Drink plenty of water or juice, even if you're not thirsty. But remember to avoid alcoholic or caffeinated drinks, as they can actually contribute to dehydration.

Wear Appropriate Clothes
An old Swedish saying says, "There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes." When it's hot out, wear light-colored, lightweight, loose-fitting clothes and a wide-brimmed hat.

Stay Indoors During Mid-day Hours
During periods of extreme heat, the best time to run errands or be outdoors is before 10am or after 6pm, when the temperature tends to be cooler.

Take it Easy
Avoid exercise and strenuous activity, particularly outdoors, when it's very hot out.

Watch the Heat Index
When there's a lot of moisture in their air (high humidity), the body's ability to cool itself through sweating is impaired. The heat index factors humidity and temperature to approximate how the how the weather really feels. The current heat index can be found on all popular weather websites, and is also usually announced on local TV and radio weather reports during periods of warm weather.

Seek Air-conditioned Environments
Seniors whose houses aren't air-conditioned should consider finding an air-conditioned place to spend time during extreme heat. The mall, library or movie theater are all popular options. During heat waves, many cities also set up "cooling centers," air-conditioned public places, for seniors and other vulnerable populations. Seniors without convenient access to any air-conditioned place might consider a cool bath or shower.

Know the Warning Signs of Heat-related Illness
Dizziness, nausea, headache, rapid heartbeat, chest pain, fainting and breathing problems are all warning signs that help should be sought immediately. 

Always check on your elderly loved ones and neighbors throughout the summer. And if you have any further questions, please contact Dr. Shah at the CHI St. Vincent Longevity Clinic at 501.552.4777.

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