Hyperthermia – A Hot Weather Hazard for Older People
It is important for seniors to remember that they are at particular risk for hyperthermia, a heat-related illness brought on by long periods of exposure to intense heat and humidity, which causes an increase in a person’s core body temperature (98.6°)(37°C). The two most common forms of hyperthermia are heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Heat Exhaustion is a warning that the body is getting too hot. The person may be thirsty, giddy, weak, uncoordinated, nauseous, sweating profusely and the skin is cold and clammy.
Heat Stroke caused by excessive exposure to hot, humid temperatures kills an average of 1,700 persons in the United States each year. About 80% of heat stroke deaths occur in persons age 50 and older, because age and other factors such as
disease, dehydration and medications diminish the ability of the body to compensate for increased core temperatures. A person with Heat Stroke has a body temperature above 104°F. Symptoms may include confusion, combativeness, bizarre behavior, faintness,
staggering, strong rapid pulse, dry flushed skin, lack of sweating and possible delirium or coma. Immediate medical attention is essential when problems first begin.
What can be done to prevent hyperthermia?
• Drink plenty of liquids, even if not thirsty. Seniors should drink at least eight, 8-ounce glasses of water throughout the day. Eating a variety of fruits with high water content such as watermelon, pineapple, grapes, strawberries, peaches, apples and pears will also help to supply needed body fluids to prevent dehydration.
• Dress in light-weight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
• Avoid the mid-day heat and do not engage in vigorous activity during the hottest time of the day—between noon and 4:00 p.m. When
participating in outdoor sports and activities, be sure to protect the skin by using sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher (exposure to sunlight is a major cause of skin-related health problems). Wear a hat or use an umbrella for shade.
• If possible, use air conditioners liberally or try to visit air-conditioned places such as senior centers, shopping malls, libraries and theatres.
• Get accustomed to the heat by slowly exposing yourself to it briefly at first and increasing the time little-by-little.
• Avoid hot, heavy meals. Do a minimum of cooking and use an oven
only when absolutely necessary. Remember to practice safe food handling
during the warmer temperatures. Perishable foods should never be left
out for more than two hours to prevent bacterial growth.
Top Ten Tips on Keeping Seniors Safe in Summer Heat
● Drink plenty of liquids — eight or more 8-ounce glasses per day and or fruit juices — every day to stay hydrated.
● Avoid caffeinated and alcoholic beverages.
● Dress appropriately. Wear loose-fitting clothes in natural fabrics like cotton and dress in light colors that will reflect the sun and heat instead of darker colors that will attract them.
● When outdoors, protect your skin from damage by wearing hats, sunglasses and a sunscreen of 30 SPF or more.
● Stay indoors during extreme heat. Make sure you check in with family or friends everyday if you live by yourself
● If you do not have air conditioning in your apartment, go somewhere that does. A movie theater, the mall, a friend or relative’s home or a community senior center are all good options.
● If you need to get out of the house and don’t drive a car, call a taxi, a friend or a transportation service. Do NOT wait outside for the bus in
● If you are absolutely unable to leave the house and do not have air conditioning, take a cool bath or shower to lower your body temperature on extremely hot days.
● Temperatures inside the home should not exceed 85 degrees Fahrenheit for prolonged periods of time.
● Know the signs of heat stroke (e.g flushed face, high body temperature, headache, nausea, rapid pulse, dizziness and confusion) and take
immediate action if you feel them coming on
“Our goal is to get the word out to warn older adults of the dangers associated with heatand to encourage them to take measures to protect themselves so they can have a safe and enjoyable summer. During periods of extreme heat, I would also urge family members, caregivers and neighbors of older individuals to frequently check on them to make sure their homes are properly ventilated and cooled, and that they have adequate fluids and foods,” said Gloria Lawlah, Secretary of the Maryland Department of Aging.
For further information on hot weather health and safety tips for seniors, contact your local Area
Agency on Aging or Judy Simon, Maryland Department of Aging, at 410-767-1090, or toll free; 1-800-243-