Female caregiver and female senior sitting on a beach with a beach umbrella Female caregiver and female senior sitting on a beach with a beach umbrella

Common Sense Tips for Seniors To Beat the Heat

Seniors in warm-weather climates are aware of the health benefits of sunshine. It is rich in vitamin D, which fights cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and depression. Vitamin D also boosts the immune system. But too much sun can lead to sunburn, overheating, and worse—skin cancer, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Here are some tips to help seniors stay safe even in the dog days of summer.

Older Adults Are More Susceptible to Complications

Older adults experience decreased blood circulation during the aging process, and their bodies’ ability to cool down naturally is less effective. This also makes recovery longer. In addition, older adults are more vulnerable to dehydration and may have other health conditions that exacerbate the problem, such as disorders of the heart, kidneys, or lungs. Some medications can also hinder one’s ability to cool off.

A Planning Ahead Checklist for Seniors

If your older loved one will be enjoying the sun and warmth over the next few months and you want to make sure they are doing everything they can to protect themselves, here is a handy checklist of preparation tips.

Preparing ahead of time:

  • Stock up on water, clear juice, sports drinks, and sunblock to ensure adequate supplies.
  • Make sure there is access to a beach umbrella.
  • Ready a wardrobe of light colors that reflect the sun’s rays and of fabrics (cotton, linen, silk) that promote air circulation, help evaporate sweat and cool the body.
  • Seniors should check with a physician or pharmacist to see if any medications they take cause fluid or electrolyte loss. Many medications, such as antibiotics and diuretics, can block the body’s natural ability to cope with the sun and heat.
  • Consider finding meal ideas that can help seniors stay hydrated.
  • Seniors on a low-carbohydrate diet should especially drink plenty of fluids, as the additional proteins in this diet can cause the body to heat up more quickly.
  • Staying hydrated is probably the easiest way to avoid getting overheated and dehydrated in warm weather. It takes about 15 minutes to absorb a glass of water. However, when dehydrated, fluids can take about three times as long to move through the stomach and bloodstream to the rest of the body.

Before heading out in the sun:

  • Bring a hand-held or beach umbrella for shade.
  • Wear a hat or cap and light, loose-fitting clothes.
  • Wet a scarf or towel and drape it around the neck.
  • Apply sunblock protection with an SPF of 30-plus.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking cool water or other refreshments, but avoid alcohol and caffeine. Consider replenishing the potassium and sodium lost when perspiring with sports drinks such as Gatorade.
  • Before the elements get overbearing, seek shelter under shaded trees or in a pavilion; if there’s an air-conditioned building nearby, cool off there.

How to prepare the home for the summer heat:

  • Hire a professional to upgrade the insulation and ventilate the attic to ensure good airflow.
  • To maximize cooling, clean AC units, replace filters, and clear condensers of leaves, dirt, and other debris. Ensure the system is checked regularly.
  • Install a smart thermostat for more efficient cooling.
  • Install awnings over windows that get direct sunlight to keep the heat at bay.
  • Plant shade trees or shrubbery for extra protection.
  • Consider installing ceiling fans or using floor fans or portable AC units.
  • On steamy days, open the outside doors sparingly, as every exit and entrance lets in heat and humidity.
  • Close blinds, shades, and drapes during peak heat.
  • On moderate days, give the AC a rest and open the windows to let in fresh air.

Warning Signs and Complications for Overheated Older Adults

If an older adult feels weak, has a headache or muscle cramps, or is dizzy, confused, or losing consciousness, it is vital to rest, cool off, and get hydrated. Water is a must, but sports drinks are key, too, as they replenish electrolytes. If the older adult doesn’t feel better, call 911.

Taking cool showers or baths and applying cool, wet towels to the neck, armpits, wrists, and ankles are old-school but effective ways to cool off. Don’t forget to replenish fluids.

Be aware of these heat-related illnesses:

  • Heat cramps: These are painful muscle spasms in the abdomen, back, arms, or legs caused by dehydration and the loss of nutrients from heavy sweating. The protocol is to rest, cool down, have clear juice or a sports drink with electrolytes, and do gentle range-of-motion stretching and massaging. Avoid strenuous activity until the cramping stops and the body feels normal again.
  • Heat exhaustion: If left untreated, this condition caused by excess heat and dehydration can lead to heat stroke, which can be life-threatening. Symptoms may include excessive thirst and sweating, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, paleness, cold and clammy skin, dizziness, headache, nausea or vomiting, and rapid and weak pulse. If signs persist, move the person to a cool, shady spot and have them drink water or sports drinks. If the person has high blood pressure or heart problems or doesn’t feel better after cooling off, call 911.
  • Heat stroke: This dangerous rise in body temperature after prolonged heat exposure can show up as red, hot, dry skin, a rapid pulse, headache, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, confusion or lethargy, or passing out. As heat stroke can be fatal, it’s important to call 911. Meanwhile, move the person to a cool, shady place, remove or loosen their clothes, and, if possible, douse them in cool water or apply cool, wet towels to their neck, armpits, wrists, and ankles. The goal is to lower the body temperature before paramedics arrive. If the person’s alert and able to hold down fluids, have them drink water or a sports beverage, but don’t force it if they’re unconscious or unable to swallow.

Final Reminders

Seniors can minimize their risk of adverse reactions to the sun and heat by following some basic precautions. Remember to stay out of the sun and heat as much as possible. Cool off as needed. Don’t overexert. Drink plenty of fluids, which for most folks means drinking more than they think they need. Don’t ignore symptoms of heat stroke or heat exhaustion.

How Right at Home Can Help

Right at Home’s trained caregivers can provide a wide range of services to help older adults stay safe as they age in place. Since it may be hard for older people to monitor their fluid intake, caregivers can help remind them and encourage them to get the fluids they need. Caregivers can also be on the lookout for dehydration warning signs and be ready to act. To find out more, use our office locator to speak with the office nearest you.

Interested in receiving tips, advice, and information in your email inbox? Subscribe to our monthly Caring Right at Home e-newsletter today!

Author Leo Adam Biga

Leo Adam Biga is a veteran freelance journalist and author who writes stories about people, their passions and their magnificent obsessions. The Omaha native and University of Nebraska at Omaha graduate is the author of “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film.” Follow his work at https://www.facebook.com/LeoAdamBiga.

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