During the warm summer months, it is natural to want to get outside and take advantage of the welcoming sunshine. However, for the elderly and those with illness or disabilities, too much of a good thing—in this case, hot, sunny weather—can pose serious health threats.

Older adults are more prone to negative effects of the summer sun and heat than younger people. They are more likely to have a chronic medical condition and take prescription medications that can cause mouth dryness, increase sensitivity to the sun, change ability to reason, or impair the body’s ability to regulate temperature or perspire. People—particularly seniors—with conditions such as asthma, thyroid diseases, obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), high blood pressure, heart/circulatory problems, diabetes, or lupus should take care to avoid heat and sun exposure.

To avoid getting overheated or sunburned, older adults should:

  • Drink plenty of fluids, but avoid drinks with alcohol, caffeine, or a lot of sugar
  • Drink fluids at least 30 minutes before going outside
  • Apply sunscreen SPF 15 or higher at least 30 minutes prior to going outside, even on cloudy days. Re-apply every two hours or after swimming or sweating
  • Wear wide-brimmed hats, and light-colored, loose fitting clothes
  • Eat more frequently, and be sure meals are well-balanced, cool, and light
  • Avoid outdoor activities from 10am to 4pm, which is the hottest part of the day

If possible, seniors should stay in an air-conditioned environment during the hottest hours of the day, either at home or a public place such as a library, a mall, or recreation center. If needed, a private duty home care company can provide home health aides who can accompany older adults who have difficulty getting out on their own.

Symptoms of heat stroke

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heat stroke, which occurs when the body can no longer control its temperature and is unable to cool itself, can cause disability or death if not treated right away. Warning signs include:

  • Red, hot, dry skin
  • Very high body temperature
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion and irritability
  • Strange behavior
  • Unconsciousness
  • Rapid pulse
  • Throbbing headache
  • Rapid and shallow breathing

If heat stroke is suspected, get medical help immediately by calling a physician or 911. In the meantime, get the person to a shady area and, if possible, and cool with water or damp sheets. Only give fluids by mouth if they have a normal mental state and can tolerate it. Direct air onto them with a fan or paper. 

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