Senior and Heat: A Dangerous Combo

Senior and Heat

When the sun is shining and it’s scorching hot outside, you might need to take some extra precautions when looking out for your senior family member. The aging body has a much harder time regulating its internal temperature than younger bodies do so that means people over 65 are at risk of overheating if they’re not careful during long periods in direct sunlight or with no access to shade. However, there are ways to protect against this – like wearing lightweight clothing (cotton!) and staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water before heading outdoors!

Why Overheating Is More Common in Seniors

Seniors are at high risk of getting dangerously hot outside since, as we already mentioned, their bodies are not capable of regulating their internal temperature like younger people. For example, the elderly body’s skin is much thinner and less able to regulate heat than younger skin which means they can cook in this summer heat if they’re not careful. This is why it’s so important for you to know how to protect your senior loved one from overheating.

Here are some factors that contribute to overheating in seniors –

Less Sensitive Nervous System

The nervous systems in older people don’t send signals about overheating as quickly or strongly as younger ones, so they experience heat exhaustion even faster than young people do.

Declining Blood Flow

As people age, the blood vessels narrow and become less efficient at transporting oxygen throughout the body. The result is that seniors can overheat very quickly because there isn’t enough fresh blood pumping through their body to cool them down. 

Inefficient Sweat Glands

As you age, your sweat glands stop functioning properly.  You produce less sweat and your glands can’t cool you down as effectively. The result? Even if you’re consuming cold fluids, you won’t stay hydrated properly. 

Medications

Many medications seniors take increase dehydration by making them urinate more often or cause a dry mouth. Other medications use diuretics which leave the body

Decreased Physical Activity

Older adults are more sedentary than younger people, so they aren’t as likely to move around when the temperature heats up and start sweating. They also may be less willing or able to take off their coats and other layers of clothing because doing so in public could make them feel self-conscious.

Existing Medical Conditions

Certain chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke or diabetes, can increase your risk for heat stress…in fact, research shows that seniors with these conditions are three times more likely to die from a heat-related illness than those who don’t have them.”(purchase) 

Salt Restricted Diet

Some seniors may be on low sodium diets and salt plays a critical role in increasing core body temperature.

Other Risk Factors

If you are frail, overweight or have heart disease, diabetes or poor circulation, this also makes you more vulnerable to heat-related illnesses…in fact, if you fit any of the above risk factors your chances of having a heat related illness are 4 times greater.

Not Preparing for Summer Heat

Many seniors, especially those in assisted living facilities or nursing homes don’t have air conditioning and do not prepare for the summer heat…and with temperature fluctuating 30 to 40 degrees between night and day, this can be a serious health problem.

Symptoms of Overheating in Seniors

Dizziness and Nausea When Hot

An elderly person who gets dizzy or nauseated when hot or dehydrated is a sure sign that you need to get them some water, fast. Their body has simply been pushed past its limits in terms of cooling itself down and all the blood vessels are constricted. 

Changes in Behavior

The thought of not being able to cool off can really stress people out, so much so that they can even develop senility. If your loved one is in a home, ask them questions like “Are you feeling hot?” or “Would you like some water?” to see how they are doing. Heat-exposed seniors can become forgetful and confused as well.

Sunburns

Remember to check for sunburns on senior’s body, especially where clothing leaves skin exposed: face, neck, arms and legs. 

Dehydration

Just because someone isn’t sweating doesn’t mean they aren’t dehydrated; heat exhaustion has nothing to do with sweat glands after all. Flushed cheeks can be a sign of dehydration, so make sure you know what their normal color is supposed to be before heading off for the day.

How Heat Affects Elderly People

When a senior gets too hot, there are many different symptoms that come along with it including: Dizziness Headache Weakness Confusion Nausea Fainting

As you may have guessed, all these symptoms can be dangerous for your loved one if left untreated. If your elderly loved one starts to feel dizzy, their confusion could get the better of them and they could lose balance, fall and strike their head which can cause life threatening injuries

What makes this issue so dangerous for seniors is that they tend to suffer from heart disease or other conditions that make it difficult for them to regulate their body temperature. It’s important knowing how to take care of your parent in the summer months. Heat is a serious threat and it’s not uncommon for people over the age of 65 to suffer heat-related illnesses… many times fatally. In fact, according to statistics , as many as 1300 Americans die each year from complications related to excessive heat exposure — that includes about 4,019 people older than 65.

If you’re worried about a senior who may be at risk, keep these heat-related health dangers in mind:

  • Even when it’s not that hot outside the body loses water through sweating and breathing. When seniors are losing fluids faster than they can drink them their internal temperature rises which puts them at risk for dehydration . Symptoms include dizziness, confusion , seizures and fainting. If you notice any of these symptoms check with your doctor as soon as possible . Your parent could have an underlying medical condition like diabetes or high blood pressure that must be treated quickly to avoid further complications.
  • For Seniors Over The Age Of 65… Drink Plenty Of Cool Fluids (at least 6 – 7 glasses a day)  When You Are Doing Physical Activity: Drink More Before, During and After Activity. Avoid Alcohol. Exercise in the Early Morning or Evening When It’s Cooler.
  • Take Frequent Breaks In Shade or Indoors Stay Hydrated With Electrolyte Packed Fluids (sports drinks) And Eat Frequently If Your Senior Loves Hot Weather.

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