High temperatures can mean heat stress for the elderly

Older populations are particularly vulnerable to hot temperatures.

Meteorological fall is upon us, but starting over the weekend, many folks are going to experience another dose of hot summer-like temperatures.

While the heat can bring with it beach days and cookouts, it can also bring about heat stress for many vulnerable populations — specifically, the elderly. 

Because of this, they are more susceptible to experiencing heat-related illnesses

Heat-related illnesses

Illnesses that come with hot temperatures can strike anyone, but the risks increase significantly for older adults. 

According to the National Institute on Aging, the heat-related illnesses they might be vulnerable to are:

  • Heat syncope, which involves dizziness that can strike suddenly
  • Heat cramps, which is the painful tightening of muscles in the stomach, legs or arms
  • Heat edema, a condition that involves ankles and the feet to swell under hot conditions
  • Heat exhaustion, in which the body is no longer able to keep cool
  • Heatstroke, a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention

Why the elderly are vulnerable

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are a few reasons why older adults are at higher risk to heat stress than young people. 

For example, because of natural changes that come with age, many elderly do not adjust to sudden shifts in temperature as well as they did in their younger years. 

They also have a greater chance of taking medications that alter the body’s ability to control its sweat or temperature. Plus, they might have chronic medical conditions that may impact their bodies’ responses to heat, as well.

Lifestyle factors can also play a role in increasing the elderly’s vulnerability. 

According to the NIH’s National Institute on Aging, those factors include "extremely hot living quarters, lack of transportation, overdressing, visiting overcrowded places, and not understanding how to respond to weather conditions." 

How to help prevent heat-related illnesses

The National Institute on Aging provides several recommendations on how older adults can stay safe during hot weather conditions. 

On hot and humid days, the elderly should stay indoors where it’s cool, particularly during poor air quality days.

Those who do not have air conditioners or fans to cool their homes should consider going to a cooler location, such as senior centers, social service organizations or religious groups that may provide cooling centers during extremely hot days. Other public air conditioned spaces to visit are libraries, movie theaters and shopping malls.

When outdoor temperatures are high, older adults should avoid places that are crowded and refrain from exercising or doing many activities outside.

To help stay cool, the National Institute on Aging also recommends wearing light-colored, loose-fitting clothes made of natural fabrics and drinking plenty of fluids.

Older adults should also pay close attention to weather reports to gauge the how hot or how humid conditions may be.

Further assistance

When the weather becomes hot, one way to help the elderly is for younger people to visit and check on them, according to the National Institute on Aging. Younger folk can help remind them to drink plenty of fluids (as long as its within their doctor’s recommendations) and make sure they are staying cool.

Elderly who are unable to pay for home cooling (and heating) costs can contact the National Energy Assistance Referral service, their local Area Agency on Aging, or nearby senior centers or social service agencies.