Seniors need to be more careful of overheating and heat stroke because their bodies can’t adjust to high temperatures as well as younger bodies can.
And older adults are more likely to be dehydrated, which increases their risk.
In fact, 36% of heat-related deaths in the U.S. were among people over age 65, according to a CDC report.
To keep seniors safe and comfortable, we’ve rounded up 10 practical, senior-friendly ways to help them stay cool indoors.
Why seniors are more vulnerable to heat
In hot weather, it’s best for older adults to stay indoors and avoid strenuous activities because:
Their bodies don’t adjust as well to sudden changes in temperature
Chronic medical conditions can change their body responses to heat
Prescription medicines can impair the body’s ability to regulate temperature or could actually prevent sweating
10 ways for seniors to stay cool in hot weather
Drink plenty of cool water throughout the day (don’t wait until they feel thirsty) and avoid alcohol and caffeine
Eat light, cold meals like chicken or pasta salad instead of heavy, hot dishes like pot roast
Place a cool washcloth on the back of the neck and a pan of cool water close by to periodically re-cool the towel
Sit with feet in a pan of cool (but not too cold) water
Keep the house as cool as possible by keeping shades closed during the hottest part of the day and using inexpensive solar curtains
Wear layers of lightweight clothing in light colored cotton so it’s easy to adjust to the temperature throughout the day by removing or adding layers
Visit a public cooling center like a recreation center, senior center, library, coffee shop, or shopping mall
Take a cool shower, bath, or washcloth wipe-down. For maximum cooling, keep the water just below body temperature.
Cover up with a flexible ice blanket – always use a towel to protect fragile senior skin from direct contact with the ice
Heat stroke in seniors is deadly
In hot weather, heat stroke in seniors is a serious risk.
Older bodies are less sensitive to changes in temperature and can’t adjust as well. So, seniors might not even notice that they’re overheating – until they become ill.
And chronic health conditions and common medications, like beta blockers for high blood pressure, also make it harder for the body to respond to heat.
We explain what heat stroke is and share 6 tips to prevent your older adult from overheating.
What is heat stroke?
Heat stroke happens when the body overheats, typically to 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
It’s a serious condition and requires immediate emergency treatment.
If it’s not treated, heat stroke can damage the brain, heart, kidneys, and muscles. Plus, the longer it takes to get treatment, the higher the risk for serious complications or death.
6 ways to prevent heat stroke in seniors
1. Understand your older adult’s health conditions
Check with their doctor to find out if medications or treatments, like diuretics or low-salt diets, could affect the way their bodies regulate temperature.
Ask if there are special things you need to do if you see signs of heat stroke. For example, common remedies like sports drinks or lots of water could be harmful for some seniors.
2. Identify heat stroke symptoms for fast treatment
Print this one-page handout from the Arizona Department of Health Services so you’ll know how to to spot the signs of heat stroke.
If your older adult shows signs of overheating, use the handout to evaluate symptoms and respond immediately.
If they are overheating, call 911 or their doctor to get professional medical attention as soon as possible. In the meantime, try to cool them down using the treatment methods listed.
3. Encourage water intake and dress for the weather
Remind your older adult to drink water throughout the day. A body that’s hydrated feels cooler and regulates temperature better. But avoid water that’s too cold, it could cause cramps.
Convince them to wear as little clothing as possible and make clothes as light, loose, and breathable as possible. If they feel chilly, give them a bath towel to use as a light lap blanket.
4. Stay cool at home
Keep the house as cool as possible by using inexpensive solar curtains to block out sun and heat.
Since heat rises, stay on the ground floor or basement of the house. It’s best to avoid the hotter, stuffy upper floors.
5. Stay cool outside the house
If the house is too hot, you may need to go somewhere else to keep your older adult cool and comfortable. [During the coronavirus pandemic, if you must go outside the house for cooling, stay at least 6 feet away from other people, wash hands frequently and thoroughly, don’t touch the face, and wear a face mask at all times.]
Senior-friendly places to find air conditioning:
Relative or friend’s house
Coffee shop or restaurant
Shopping mall or stores
Senior center or city recreation center
6. Use caution with electric fans
Electric fans can trick the body into thinking it’s cooler than it actually is and can do more harm than good, especially for older adults.
The CDC recommends using electric fans only when the temperature is below the high 90s. Once the temperature reaches the 90s, it’s better to take a cool shower or bath or use an air conditioner to cool down.