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Beating the Heat & Keeping Cool: Advice for an Aging Population

By Chris Corpuz

The dog days of summer are upon us and though many associate mid-summer with the hottest days of the year, the late summer heat waves are just as dangerous. Seniors, caretakers and family members tend to be prepared for the heat on a beach day in July, but once thoughts turn to fall with the start of school, the ending of vacation season and Halloween decorations showing up in frequented big box stores, it's easy to forget that these late summer days can reach into the triple digits. It's important to continue to take care of yourself and your family in these events. Know the causes, symptoms, risk factors and what you can do to prevent heat related illnesses.

While everyone should take these issues seriously, seniors are more prone to heat related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke than the rest of the population. As bodies age, they become less efficient at regulating temperature for a couple of reasons. Seniors over 65 don’t sweat as much as younger adults, which unfortunately is one of the body’s most important heat-regulation mechanisms.  Also, seniors store fat differently, which complicates heat-regulation in the body further.

When these basic functions are compromised, when the temperature rises, so too does your internal body temperature. This is even more prevalent when you’re exposed directly to the sun or extremely hot environments. Which is why seniors suffer from heat stroke more often than younger people throughout the summer.

Staying hydrated is always important, but especially during heat waves. The reason for this is simple: Dehydration diminishes your ability to regulate temperature, and your risk of developing a heat illness rises dramatically.

Warning Signs of Heat Exhaustion

Watch for these warning signs as heat stroke, which is much more serious, can set in within 10-15 minutes.

  • Excessive sweating

  • Tiredness

  • Weakness

  • Dizziness

  • Headache and muscle cramps.

  • As exhaustion progresses, symptoms may progress to nausea, vomiting and fainting.

Lifestyle and Health Factors

There are a variety of lifestyle and health factors that increase the risk of developing a heat-related illness:

  • Dehydration

  • Chronic illnesses (heart and kidney diseases; blood circulation conditions)

  • Prescription medications that reduce sweating

  • Salt-restricted diets

  • Overdressing

  • Lack of airflow or access to air-conditioning

  • Living in particularly hot climates (Arizona and Nevada, for example, lead the nation in heat-related deaths)


Strategies to Keep Cool

  • Hydrate. We simply cannot state this enough. This is the most important part of any strategy to beat the heat

  • Plan: Do your out door activities in the early morning or evening and avoid being outside during the hottest parts of the day.

  • Stay hydrated: When you wake up drink a couple glasses of water first thing and keep water within reach throughout the day.

  • Dress cool: Light weight and light in color

  • Feel cool: Fill a spray bottle and mist yourself every so often

  • Seek cool: Find places that are shaded and breezy. In San Diego there are cool zones around the county you can visit

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