Tips to Avoid
Heat Strokes in Seniors
As the spring warmth transitions into summer heat, it’s important to take special care to prevent heat stress that can result in multiple illnesses. Heat-related illnesses vary from heat cramps to heat exhaustion, but the most serious and deadly is heat stroke.
Older adults (65+) are the most prone to heat strokes
Heat strokes occur when the body overheats to 104°F or higher and loses its ability to cool down. They’re more likely to affect seniors 65+ years of age, who have a reduced ability to adjust well to sudden changes in temperature. Seniors are also likely to have medical conditions or take medications that impact their body’s response to heat.
Without emergency treatment, heat stroke victims can die or experience permanent damage in their brain or other internal organs. Get immediate medical help if you experience the signs of heat stroke listed below.
Signs of heat stroke
Keep an eye on your body’s reaction to the heat. If you’ve stopped sweating, feel lightheaded, and think you might pass out, immediately reach for medical help.
Heat stroke can happen gradually over hours or days of prolonged heat exposure. You might experience symptoms over several hours, or they might compound together in a short time.
If you experience any or all of the following symptoms, you’re at risk of heat stroke:
- Red, hot, and dry skin with no sweat
- A body temperature higher than 103°F
- Dizziness and throbbing headache
- Feeling faint or nauseous
- Behavioral changes including confusion, grogginess, and disorientation
- A pulse that is strong and rapid, or weak and slow
- Muscle weakness or cramps
5 Tips to Prevent Heat Stroke
Begin special care when the temperature rises above 80°F
Heat illnesses become a possibility when the outdoor temperature passes 80°F, especially when there is a high humidity of 75-80%. If you’re outside, stay under the shade and away from the sun or move to an air-conditioned shelter. Keep water near you and drink before you begin to feel thirsty.
If you stay outside, wear SPF 30+ sunscreen and sun-protective clothing including a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. Loose, lightweight, and light-colored clothing can air out your body and won’t retain body heat. Natural fabrics like cotton tend to feel cooler than synthetic fabrics.
Stay in an air-conditioned room when the heat index is above 90
Keep an eye on the heat index, which combines air temperature with humidity levels to measure how hot it really feels. For example, if the temperature is 80°F and the humidity level is 75%, the heat index is 84°F, which is in the caution zone for heat-related illnesses. Most heat index charts have four caution zones based on prolonged exposure or strenuous activity: Caution, Extreme Caution, Danger, and Extreme Danger. Consider moving indoors for indexes in the caution zone and move indoors for higher zones.
Also note that hot air travels upward, so if you’re in a multi-level house, stay on the ground or basement level. Draw curtains and close blinds to keep the sunlight out, use solar curtains to reflect heat away from the house, and avoid turning on the oven and other heat-producing appliances.
Use electric fans only when the temperature is below 95°F
When taking indoor shelter from the heat, only stay in air-conditioned rooms. Electric fans shouldn’t be used when the temperature is in the high 90s because they can trick your body into thinking it’s cooler.
Unlike air conditioners, which cool the air, electric fans only circulate air. If connected to the outdoors, electric fans could bring in air hotter than your body temperature and increase your risk of heat stroke. You might feel cool because the air evaporates your sweat, but sweat evaporation actually speeds up heat stress.
Maintain hydration with extra fluids
Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and sugary drinks. These beverages have the opposite effect of water by dehydrating your body and increasing the need to urinate. Instead, drink more water than usual. You could also drink fruit and vegetable juice, or an electrolyte-rich sports drink to replenish depleted salt. If your doctor limits your fluid intake, ask them what you should do to stay hydrated during hot weather.
Avoid strenuous activities during hot weather
Don’t overexert yourself when the temperature is high. This isn’t limited to vigorous exercise. Even housework can increase your body temperature. If you feel more exhausted than usual doing a routine activity, stop until the weather cools.
MorningStar Senior Living is dedicated to offering compassionate care by meeting each resident’s social, emotional, physical, and spiritual needs. If you’re a senior or adult relative of a senior, refer to our Decision Guide to determine the best time to consider assisted living communities.