Summer Too Hot to Handle? How to Avoid Heat Stroke as an Older Adult
Every year at around this time, we start to see stories about older adults suffering from heat stroke. Unfortunately, if the climate experts are right, this problem is only going to get worse for our generation in the coming decades.
Since this issue is so important – both for us and our elderly parents – I wanted to take a few minutes here to give some suggestions on how to avoid heat stroke. I hope that you will apply them yourself. Equally importantly, I hope that you will use them to keep your elderly loved ones cool this summer.
Why Doesn’t Our Generation Pay Attention to Warnings?
As baby boomers, we don’t like to limit ourselves. Unlike previous generations, we don’t see life after 60 as a time to “take it easy.” We see it as a time to explore our passions, see as much of the world as possible and give back in our own way.
Unfortunately, we also have a tendency to take warnings with a grain of salt. Because we don’t see ourselves as “seniors,” we think that topics like heat stroke prevention apply only to the very elderly. Nothing could be further from the truth.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 40% of heat stroke cases in the U.S. involve people over 65. Furthermore, as more people reach their 60s, this percentage is likely to increase.
The good news is that there are plenty of simple things that we can do to keep ourselves – and our loved ones – safe during the hot summer months. But, first, let’s talk about how to recognize the signs of heat stroke.
What Are the Symptoms of Heat Stroke?
Anyone can suffer from heat stroke, but, older adults seem to be especially vulnerable. Part of the reason for this is that we have a harder time, on average, monitoring and adjusting to big changes in temperature. As the CDC points out, “People aged 65 years or older are less likely to sense and respond to changes in temperature.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the symptoms of heat stroke include increased body temperature, behavioral changes (confusion, slurred speech or irritability), nausea, flushed skin and several others.
If you feel any of these symptoms, or you see someone else who may be suffering from heat stroke, it is important that you seek medical assistance.
Of course, as the old saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” so, it makes sense to focus on preventative measures too. Here are a few things that you can do to avoid heat stroke.
Take Advantage of Air-Conditioned Buildings
During the long summers, when I lived in Texas, I used to love going to the mall. Most of the time, I didn’t even need to shop. I just wanted to enjoy the cool air and the hustle and bustle of the crowd.
If you have a long day planned, make sure that you plan plenty of opportunities to cool off. Don’t be afraid to tell your friends and family that you need to spend a few minutes indoors before rejoining the crowd.
Drink Plenty of Water
Your body is an incredibly efficient cooling machine. But, in order to sweat, you need to be hydrated. As a result, one of the best things you can do to reduce your chances of getting heat stroke is to drink plenty of water.
Personally, I carry around a bottle of water in my purse during the summer. I don’t wait until I get thirsty to drink. I just take a sip every time I think about it.
Wear Light Clothing
You already know that white is one of the hottest colors for women over 60. Why not take advantage of this fact to stay cooler during the summer?
Seriously though, one of the best things that you can do during the summer to stay cool is to wear loose, light-colored clothing. Also, while we’re on the subject of clothing, don’t forget your trendy sun hat too!
Pay Attention to Heat Warnings
There are plenty of times when it makes sense to ignore what other people think about your age. This is not one of them! When you hear that a heat wave is coming your way, be prepared!
Make a mental note of the air-conditioned public buildings near your home. This list could include community centers, libraries and shopping centers. Also, make sure that you have plenty of ice in your freezer.
If the weather gets particularly extreme, consider asking a friend or relative who has air-conditioning if you can stay with them for a few days. It’s better to be safe than sorry!
Shift Activities to Early Morning and Late Afternoon
If you are planning an outdoor activity, try to organize it for a time when the sun isn’t at it hottest. The same goes for events that you are invited to. If your family is thinking about having a BBQ, why not suggest that is starts in the late afternoon rather than at lunch time?
Take a Cool Shower During the Day
Nothing feels better on a hot day than a long cool shower. Personally, when the weather gets hot, I take at least two showers a day.
I’m also not in a hurry to throw all of my clothes on again. Letting your body air-dry is a wonderful feeling!
Let’s Keep an Eye Out for Each Other This Summer
I hope that it is clear by now that all older adults, even those of us who are a relatively young 65, need to take the summer sun seriously. At the same time, the people who are even more at risk are our parents and elderly neighbors. So, let’s pay special attention to their needs.
Do you parents have a plan for staying cool this summer? Is there an elderly neighbor that you could check in on once in a while? When it comes to the summer heat, we’re all in this together.
How do you stay cool in the summer? What suggestions would you offer to someone who is wondering how to avoid heat stroke? Please join the conversation.
Editor’s note: none of the information in this article is intended to be medical advice.