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Summer safety tips for seniors to avoid heat stress

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.

Older adults are particularly at risk for heat stress because they do not adjust as well to sudden changes in temperature, and they are more likely to have a chronic medical condition or take prescription medications that change the body’s response to heat or ability to control its temperature or sweat.

Temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit and/or high humidity are especially dangerous, but it doesn't take a heat wave to cause problems.

Seniors and other adults who experience any of the mild signs of heat stress, including feeling hot and uncomfortable, loss of appetite and lack of energy, can try these tips for keeping cool:

  • Try to keep your home cool. If you don’t have fans or air-conditioning, limit your use of the oven, and keep shades, blinds, or curtains closed during the hottest time of the day. Your city or town’s Health Department or Senior Center may be able to provide further assistance, such as a list of area cooling centers or referrals to assistance programs.   
  • Exercise when temperatures tend to be cooler.
  • 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 may cause dehydration.
  • Take a slightly cool bath or shower.
  • 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 more water than usual. Avoid fluids containing alcohol, caffeine or salt. If you have a problem with retaining water or other special medical condition, check with your doctor about the amount of fluids you should be drinking during hot weather.
  • 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 the buddy system. Check on a relative, friend or neighbor over age 65 at least twice a day and ask them to check on you as well.
  • Don't ignore the warning signs of heat stress.  

Contact a doctor or other health care provider if you are showing signs of heat stress. Contact a physician immediately if you are experiencing any of the following serious symptoms of heat stress: breathing problems, chest pain, muscle cramps, diarrhea, dizziness, dry skin (no sweating), great weakness, mental changes, confusion, nausea, rapid heartbeat, throbbing headache, extremely high body temperature (above 103 degrees Fahrenheit when taken orally), and/or vomiting.

This information is intended for educational purposes only. For medical advice, please contact your health care provider.

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