It often seems as if summer lasts from Easter to Halloween. But we typically see the hottest of the hot days (the “dog days” of summer) in late July and August, and we've had our fair share already. This raises some concern for keeping safe and cool. Seniors in particular may be at higher risk of heat-related maladies as they are less likely to sense and respond to changes in temperature. Additionally, as we grow older, our bodies become less efficient at regulating body temperature. Certain health conditions and medications can also make it more difficult for the body to regulate its temperature or to perspire.
While a simple rise in temperature may not seem like a health threat, according the National Weather Service, heat is one of the leading causes of weather-related death in the United States, causing hundreds of fatalities each year.
Fortunately, there are several things we can do to stay safe and cool, even in the midst of summer’s hottest days.
Just as our sensitivity to heat dulls as we age, so does our awareness of thirst. This, along with our body’s ability to conserve water as we grow older, put seniors at greater risk of dehydration.
Summer heat adds to the risk, because on hot days, the body loses water more quickly. Here are some tips to staying hydrated this summer.
- Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to take in fluids. If you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol as these can cause the body to lose even more fluid.
- Eat lots of fresh fruit, a wonderful source of fluids – not everything has to be water.
- Add fresh lemon or lime to your water to add a little flavor.
- Use water to dilute fruit juices, making them last longer and increasing your fluid intake.
- Get creative! Make “mocktails,” like non-alcoholic daiquiris and pina coladas.
If you are on a fluid-restricted diet, consult your physician about how to get the fluids you need during the hot summer months.
Other tips to beat the heat
Here are some other ways to beat the heat this summer:
- Keep your home safe and comfortable by running the air conditioning during the hottest parts of the day and by letting in cool air in the early morning and late evening hours. If you need financial help to keep you home cool, contact the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
- If your home isn’t air-conditioned, take a break during the hottest part of the day by going to a movie, shopping at an indoor mall, or visiting a library.
- Dress in lightweight, light-colored, and loose-fitting clothing, make of natural fabrics, like linen or cotton.
- If you must go outside (gardening, errands), plan this for the early morning hours, when it’s coolest.
- Supplement your diet with folic acid – a new study from Penn State showed that folic acid can enhance blood vessel dilation in older adults, which may help them to avoid heat-related issues such as heart attacks or strokes.
- Take a cool shower or bath.
- Get plenty of rest.
If you do experience problems …
If you or a loved one experiences heavy sweating, weakness, a fast and weak pulse, nausea or fainting, this could be a sign of heat exhaustion. In this case, move to a cool location as quickly as possible. Lie down, loosen clothing and apply cool, wet cloths to as much of the body as possible. Sip some cool water.
Heat stroke is a more serious situation and is characterized by a body temperature above 103 degrees, hot and red skin, a rapid and strong pulse, or unconsciousness. In this case, call 911 immediately. Before paramedics arrive, move the person to a cooler environment, apply cool cloths, but do NOT give them fluids.
Enjoy your summer!
With a little diligence and preparation, everyone should be able to enjoy these dog days of summer safely.