By Sue Donahue
This summer, heatwaves are smashing records all over the country. We are all feeling it, but extreme temperatures have the greatest effect on the very young and the oldest among us. The CDC estimates that heat deaths jumped 56% between 2018 and 2021 with people aged 65 years or older being more prone to suffering from heat-related health problems.
There are physical reasons older adults are more sensitive to varying temperatures. Although vital signs such as body temperature, pulse and heart rate don’t change significantly as we age, the body’s ability to manage how it deals with the effects of extreme temperatures do.
It’s especially important for those caring for a parent or older adult to understand and recognize the sign of a potential temperature related health issue before it becomes a big problem.
From the experts: What to know about the how our aging body changes how it manages extreme temperatures:
- It takes longer for the heart rate to increase at the start and slow down afterwards. for older adults. The highest heart rate with exercise is also lower.
- Breathing Rate. Lung function decreases as we age. Every year.
- There is less fat under the skin as we age, making it harder for older adults to get and stay warm. It may also be why your Mom likes to keep her home a toasty 78 degrees.
- The body’s natural cooling system is less efficient and an older adult may not be able to tell when they are overheated, increasing their risk of heat related illnesses. Heat stress presents the first signs that someone may be having issues with their body temperature. Without attention, exposure to extreme heat can result in heat rash, cramps, heat exhaustion or heat stroke
- A fever is a sign of infection. It’s important to connect with a loved one’s doctor to check out this and any other additional symptoms, if any.
- Some Commonly used/prescribed medications used to treat health issues in older adults can also affect the ability to regulate temperature. These include:
- Diuretics (can raise body temperature)
- Antihistamines, decongestants (can raise body temperature)
- Blood pressure medication/Beta blockers (can raise body temperature)
- Psychiatric medications (can raise body temperature)
- NSAID pain relievers (can lower body temperature)
Keeping Them Safe Inside Their Home
My Mother-In-Law likes her home warm and adamantly objects to the idea of air conditioning. We knew how bad the heatwave was bad when after a few days of 90+ degree temperatures, even she succumbed and put on the central air in her condo. When it suddenly stopped working, she called on us to come help her fix it. We put in a window unit because no one was available to come out to fix it. Not all seniors have the access to help that quickly and not all caregivers live close enough to be able to help. If you are caring for someone, make sure their home or apartment is at a temperature that is comfortable and safe. In general, temperatures around 78 degrees. If family doesn’t live close by, enlist other people who are willing to check up on them for you. This year, volunteers for a local “Meals on Wheels” program in Oregon are providing wellness checks for local seniors and adults with disabilities in addition to dropping off meals.
Take Advantage Of Technology
Smart Technology like Livindi, uses sensors that detect, report and notify caregivers and family members not living with them to the temperature inside the home so action can be taken such as when it’s too hot or too cold. Video calling can help family members see senior loved ones and potentially see if they are in distress or uncomfortable.
Some Additional Tips For Helping For Prevent Heat Related Illness Inside And Outside:
- It’s important to stay hydrated. Drink water! If you’re out, remember to take water with you
- Avoid using the oven or stove to prepare meals
- If your loved one does not have access to air conditioning, have them consider staying with a friend or family member, especially during a heatwave
- Find somewhere cool to sit inside during the hottest times of the day. The local mall, library, or even a movie theater are good places to go
- Move slowly to avoid overexertion in hot weather
- Wear sunscreen and clothing to prevent sunburns. Sunburns make it hard for the body to cool down
- Wear a hat and light and breathable clothing if possible. Take advantage of any shade.
- Snack on foods high in water content such as fruit (think grapes, melon, tomatoes, etc.) or lightly salted nuts to regulate your blood sugar and salt levels
- Spend some time at a nearby community pool. Put feet in cold water or take a shower to cool down
- Put a cool wet cloth on the back of the neck
- Sports drinks can help the body to retain fluids which also helps regulate internal temperatures. For those with diabetes and other conditions in which they should restrict sugar intake, this may not be the best choice
Want More Information?
- Learn the signs of heat related illness and what to do to help treat your loved one when you see them. Download the CDC infographic here or go to https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/warning.html
- Where is it extremely hot today? Check the Heat wave map tracker https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/us/heat-wave-map-tracker.html