Hot Temperatures Bring Danger of Heat Stress

Published: June 30, 2016

By: Jean Gartner, RN, director of Clinic & Home Care Services, LIFE Butler County

As the weather heats up, seniors should try to keep cool to avoid heat stress and potential complications like heat exhaustion, heat stroke, heart failure and stroke.

Heat and high humidity can put a strain on your body. Seniors are especially vulnerable to prolonged exposure to high temperatures and humidity because of physical changes they have experienced. Knowing the warning signs of heat stress and taking precautions to avoid it can help keep you healthy during the summer.

Temperatures above 90 degrees and/or high humidity are especially dangerous, but it doesn’t take a heat wave to cause problems. If seniors and other adults experience any of the mild signs of heat stress, including feeling hot and uncomfortable, loss of appetite, and lack of energy, try these tips for keeping cool:

  • Exercise before 9 a.m. or after 6 p.m. when temperatures tend to be cooler
  • Stay in an air conditioned place. If you do not have air conditioning in your home, go to an air conditioned public place, if possible, such as a library or senior center. If you are unsure if your town has a senior center or other air conditioned place for seniors, call the Area Agency on Aging in your county for assistance.

If you are unable to go to an air-conditioned place on a hot and/or humid day, it is also recommended that you try to:

  • Stay in the shade and out of direct sunlight
  • Apply sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher 30 minutes before going outside. Sunburns affect your body’s ability to cool itself and cause loss of fluids.
  • Take a slightly cool bath or shower
  • Put cool, damp towels on your body
  • Use fans to keep air circulating
  • Avoid strenuous activities. If engaging in strenuous activities, pace yourself and rest frequently
  • Wear light-colored, lightweight, loose clothing made out of a material that allows sweat to evaporate, such as cotton. Avoid synthetic materials like polyester.
  • Protect your head and neck when outside by wearing a wide-brimmed hat or using an umbrella.
  • Drink frequently to replace fluids lost by sweating. Avoid fluids containing alcohol, caffeine or salt. If you have a problem with retaining water or a special medical condition, check with your doctor about the amount of fluids you should be drinking.
  • Avoid hot foods and heavy meals, since it adds heat to your body. If you use a stove, try to cook during cooler times of the day.
  • Use salt tablets only with your doctor’s approval.
  • Ask a friend or relative to check on you at least twice a day

Don’t ignore the warning signs of heat stress:

  • Breathing problems
  • Rapid heartbeat or chest pain
  • Muscle cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Throbbing headache or dizziness
  • Dry skin (no sweating)
  • Great weakness
  • Mental changes, confusion
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Extremely high body temperature (above 103 degrees when taken orally)

If you experience any of these symptoms, dial 911 for immediate help.

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