17 November 2014

Seniors, stay cool this summer

Nothing beats spending long summer days outdoors. But if you’re in your golden years, too much heat and sunshine could be dangerous.


With summer finally here, Australians will be dedicating more time to barbeques, picnics, gardening and other outdoor activities. And why not? After all, a little bit of sunshine is good for you.

Read: Humans can sniff out old age

But too much heat can pose a serious health threat, especially as you get older. A recent University of Chicago Medical Centre study found that 40% of heat-related fatalities were among elderly people.

“Older people can’t adjust as well to temperature changes, and their ability to notice those changes diminishes,” says Ruth Johnson, who has more than 12 years’ experience as a caregiver, in a recent Times News article.

“The process of perspiration, which is our body’s natural cooling system, declines as we age, as does our sense of thirst,” she continues. “Also, seniors may have health conditions or take medications that make it harder for them to acclimate.”

Be aware of the symptoms and signs of heatstroke and heat exhaustion this summer, and take the necessary precautions to keep your cool...

Heat exhaustion

Heat exhaustion occurs as a result of decreased blood pressure caused by the loss of body fluids and electrolytes. Certain groups of people (such as the elderly, the young and diabetics) are more at risk of getting heatstroke.

This condition can become quite serious if immediate action isn’t taken. Symptoms develop very quickly and can include:

-    Feeling listless, weak and/or dizzy, especially after exercising in the heat.
-    Rapid pulse
-    Nausea and vomiting

The person’s mental state and behaviour remains normal.

Read: Losing a spouse may delay dementia in seniors

Quickly move the affected person to a cool place and give them water to drink. Lay the person on his back and elevate his legs and pelvis. If the person doesn’t feel better within half an hour, call a doctor.


Heatstroke occurs when the body’s temperature becomes dangerously high due to prolonged exposure to heat.  It typically occurs in hot, humid conditions.

Heatstroke is of special concern in the elderly and people with heart disease.

Symptoms may include:

-    Confusion
-    Irritability
-    Seizures
-    Rapid pulse
-    Hot, dry and red skin

This condition is a medical emergency and an ambulance or doctor should be called immediately. Give the affected person water to drink, try to cool them off with damp towels, and keep them out of the heat while you wait for medical assistance.

What you can do

The good news is that, with the right precautions, you can safely enjoy the hot summer months. Here are the most effective strategies:

•    Enjoy outdoor activities only when the temperature is cooler (early morning or late afternoon).
•    Try to avoid any strenuous physical activity in the heat or in hot, humid conditions.
•    Seek shade when the sun is at its highest (between 10am and 4pm).
•    Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses when you’re outdoors.
•    If you’re in the sun during the warmest part of the day, apply and reapply a broad-spectrum water-resistant sunscreen (SPF 30+).
•    Stay hydrated by drinking water at regular intervals. Be careful not to overdo your drinking, though, as it’s also possible to over-hydrate.
•    Ensure persons with mobility problems have adequate fluids in easy reach.

Read: Older adults sharpest in the morning

•    Spend time in air-conditioned areas during the hottest times of the day, and stay indoors on particularly hot days.
•    Check that your medication doesn’t affect your sensitivity to heat. If it does, talk to your doctor about other precautionary measures.

Read More:
Joint pain in seniors reduces quality of life
High-dose flu vaccine more effective for seniors
Getting up improves seniors' physical function 


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Live healthier

Exercise benefits for seniors »

Working out in the concrete jungle Even a little exercise may help prevent dementia Here’s an unexpected way to boost your memory: running

Seniors who exercise recover more quickly from injury or illness

When sedentary older adults got into an exercise routine, it curbed their risk of suffering a disabling injury or illness and helped them recover if anything did happen to them.