Summer officially started on June 20, but the East Coast has seen temperatures in the 90s and heat advisories several times this year, starting in spring. While everyone should take care to stay cool in the heat, it can be critical for older adults to stay cool and hydrated in warmer temperatures.
With more and more hot days starting in spring and lasting through fall, experts from Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professions shared tips on staying cool and why it’s important to check in on older family, friends and neighbors when temperatures begin to rise.
“Older adults have an increased sensitivity to heat during the warm summer months as a result of several age-related changes,” Catherine Quay, an assistant clinical professor in the College.
These changes include a decrease in total body fluid volume, a decline in sweat gland activity and a decrease in thirst sensation. Quay added there are several actions that older adults can incorporate into their day during the summer months to decrease their risk for heat exposure related symptoms.
- Avoid outdoor activity during the middle of the day. Complete outdoor activities before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m.
- Set an alarm for every hour while awake as a reminder to drink water.
- Keep air conditioners or fans on, and close blinds/curtains during the middle of the day.
- If you do not have an air conditioner, make a plan to spend the afternoon hours in a cool location during extreme heat. Visit your local library, senior center, coffee shop, etc.
Quay said, “Caregivers should have a plan in place to check in by phone with their older loved ones every day. If your loved one sounds confused or does not answer, please visit them and make sure they are okay. Dehydration and heat stroke can occur very quickly in the older adult and can have serious consequences.”
“Older adults are more at risk for dehydration and heat stress injury,” said Jennifer Olszewski, EdD, an assistant professor in the College. She provided additional tips for keeping cool.
- Wear loose, light weight, light colored clothing.
- Take cool showers or place a cool towel across the back of the neck.
- Do not use the stove or oven. Prepare light, cool meals and snacks.
“Changes in skin and ability to sweat place older adults at risk for heat stroke,” said Olszewski. “Chronic medical conditions and medications can also impact their ability to acclimate to heat.”
She recommends caregivers check to make sure their environment is cool enough and that they have enough water and food supplies as well. They should seek medical attention immediately for signs of heat stress: dizziness, nausea, vomiting, dry flushed skin (not sweating), headaches, muscle cramps, fatigue, weakness, high temperature and/or fainting.
“Caregivers should be aware of the resources available in Philadelphia for older adults and where to turn when needing assistance during heat waves,” said Justine Sefcik, PhD, an assistant professor in the College.
She added that the Philadelphia Corporation for the Aging has a helpline that can connect people with resources during extremely high temperature days as well as year-round. Additionally, on days with extreme heat and humidity, the City of Philadelphia opens cooling centers around the city. Information on locations can be found on their website.
Media interested in speaking with Quay, Olszewski or Sefcik should contact Annie Korp, news manager, at 215-571-4244 or firstname.lastname@example.org.