Tips for Seniors to Stay Cool and Safe this Summer


In many parts of the country, the weather went from unseasonably cool (as in, “Are we really cranking up the heat in May?!”) to dangerously hot and, in a lot of cases, exceptionally humid, too. A high heat index is particularly troublesome for seniors.

What Is the Heat Index?
Like the wind chill factor in the winter, the Heat Index (HI) is a number that tells people how warm it actually feels, regardless of the real outside air temperature. The heat index, sometimes called the humidex, combines the air temperature with the relative humidity to come up with a number that may be higher than the actual air temperature.

During high humidity, the body doesn’t sweat as effectively or release heat through the evaporation of sweat. This can be especially dangerous if seniors (or anyone else) is exercising outdoors in a high heat index, but can even be a problem during mild activity, such as taking a walk.

Why Is Heat More Dangerous to Seniors?
High heat is even more dangerous for older people, because they can’t regulate their body temperature as effectively through sweating and typically have poorer circulation, too. A number of diseases often associated with old age, including heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s, can increase the risk of danger from the summer heat.

Know the Signs of Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion
Recognizing the signs of heat exhaustion before it becomes heat stroke is one way to stay safe. But you should also know the signs of heat stroke in order to get treatment quickly.

Typically, warning signs of heat stroke include:

  • Extremely high body temperature (above 103 degrees F.)
  • Warm skin, flushed skin
  • No sweating
  • Headache, nausea and/or dizziness

On the other hand, if a person is sweating heavily, pale, and having muscle cramps, they could be suffering heat exhaustion. Rather than feeling warm, their skin may feel cool or moist.

A person suffering from either heat exhaustion or heat stroke may experience fatigue, weakness, dizziness, headache and nausea or vomiting, or may even faint.

Whichever symptoms they have, someone suffering heat stroke or heat exhaustion should be taken to a cooler environment immediately and cooled down, usually by using cool water (either a pool, cool tub or cool shower.)

Give the person cool, but not icy cold, water to drink. Heat exhaustion can be a life-threatening emergency, so have someone call emergency medical personnel (if you are in an assisted living facility) or 911 (if on-site help is not available) at the same time you begin to cool the person down.

Avoid a Heat Emergency
Recognizing the signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke is one way to keep seniors safe in hot weather. Because many seniors, especially those with Alzheimer’s or dementia, don’t recognize changes in temperature immediately, remind loved ones to remove extra layers outdoors and to turn on the air conditioner as soon as they return home.

A programmable thermostat is a great investment, as it can be programmed based on temperature in the home, time of day, or even learn behavioral patterns to turn on when seniors need AC the most and turn off when no one is home.

Seniors should drink plenty of water, but if they are on water pills or other medication, check with their doctor to find out exactly how much water they should be drinking on warm days.

Spending time outdoors is still important to avoid feelings of isolation or depression. Plan outdoor activities for early morning or late evening, when the sun is lower and it’s not as warm. But pay attention to the heat index; it can get extremely warm even by 8 or 9 AM.

You can also take outdoor activities indoors – get a group together for mall-walking, or take advantage of exercise classes within a senior community. It might also be a great time to enjoy the pool in the senior community; just remember to apply waterproof sunscreen 20 minutes before going in the water, as elderly skin is also prone to burn more easily.

SeniorLiving.Net is a free service for families to use that are looking for senior care or senior living for a loved one. Call (877) 345-1706 to speak to your local Care Advisor about senior care providers in your local area.