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For Seniors: You Can Beat the Heat

After age 65, your body can't adjust to changes in air temperature—especially heat—as quickly as it did when you were younger. That puts you at risk for heat-related illnesses.

You also may be at greater risk for heat-related illnesses if you have a chronic health condition or take certain medications that interfere with normal body response to heat. Some medications also restrict the body's ability to perspire.

Fortunately, you can enjoy a safe summer by taking a few precautions when it gets hot, says the National Institute on Aging (NIA).

Unless you are on a "water pill" and your doctor has told you to limit your fluids, drink plenty of cool liquids, such as water or fruit and vegetable juices. Don't wait until you're thirsty. Do not drink alcohol, because you'll lose much of the fluid it offers.

Ways to keep cool

If you can't afford air conditioning:

  • Open your windows at night.

  • Create a cross breeze by opening windows on opposite sides of the room or house.

  • Cover windows when they're in direct sunlight, and keep curtains, shades, or blinds drawn during the hottest part of the day.

  • Dampen your clothing with water and sit in the breeze from a fan.

  • Spend at least two hours a day (the hottest part, if possible) in an air-conditioned place, such as a library, senior center, or friend's house.

Ask your local area agency on aging if there's a program that provides window air conditioners to seniors who qualify. If you can't afford to run your air conditioner, ask your local area agency on aging or senior center if they know of programs that can help you with cooling bills.

Other ideas:

  • Take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath.

  • Ask a friend or relative to drive you to a cool place on very hot days if you don't drive. Many towns or counties, area agencies, religious groups, and senior centers also provide such services. Don't stand outside waiting for a bus.

  • Dress for the weather. Some people find natural fabrics like cotton to be cooler than synthetic fibers. Light-colored clothes feel cooler than dark colors. If you aren't sure what to wear, ask a friend or family member for help.

  • Don't try to exercise, walk long distances, or do a lot when it's hot.

  • Don't go to crowded places when it's hot outside.

Who's at risk?

Your health and lifestyle may raise the threat of a heat-related illness, the NIA says. These health factors may increase your risk:

  • Poor circulation, inefficient sweat glands, and changes in the skin caused by normal aging

  • Heart, lung, and kidney diseases, as well as any illness that causes weakness or fever

  • High blood pressure or other conditions that require changes in diet; for example, people on low-salt diets may face an added risk (but don't use salt pills without asking your doctor)

  • The inability to perspire caused by some drugs, including diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers, and certain heart and blood pressure medicines

  • Taking several drugs at once for various conditions; don't just stop taking them: Talk with your doctor

  • Being substantially overweight or underweight

  • Drinking alcoholic beverages

How to handle heat illnesses

Heat stress, heat fatigue, heat cramps, and heat exhaustion are all forms of hyperthermia, the general name for a range of heat-related illnesses, says the NIA. Symptoms may include headache; nausea; skin that is dry (no sweating), hot and red; muscle spasms; and fatigue after exposure to heat.

If you suspect someone is suffering from a heat-related illness, the NIA says you should do these things:

  • Get the victim out of the sun and into a cool place—preferably one that is air-conditioned.

  • Offer fluids but not alcohol or caffeine. Water and fruit and vegetable juices are best.

  • Encourage the person to sponge off with cool water.

  • Urge the person to lie down and rest, preferably in a cool place.

  • Seek emergency medical attention if you suspect heat stroke. Possible symptoms of heat stroke include:.

    • Headache

    • Dizziness

    • Disorientation, agitation, or confusion

    • Sluggishness or fatigue

    • Seizure

    • Hot, dry skin that is flushed but not sweaty

    • High body temperature

    • Loss of consciousness

    • Rapid heartbeat

    • Hallucinations