The National Institute on Aging (NIA) has issued guidelines to help older adults reduce the risk of hyperthermia, or heat-related health conditions, during the hot summer months.
Seniors are particularly vulnerable to heat-related ailments, such as heat stroke, heat edema, heat cramps, heat syncope, and heat exhaustion. Heat stroke is a serious medical emergency and professional help should be sought straight away. Signs of heat stroke include fainting; confusion; dizziness; a body temperature over 104 degrees C; dry, flushed skin; a rapid pulse or slow weak pulse; and not sweating despite the heat.
Other conditions include heat edema, which is swelling in the ankles and feet; heat exhaustion, characterized by feelings of thirst, dizziness, weakness, excessive sweating and feelings of nausea; and heat syncope, which is a sudden dizziness brought on by activity in hot weather.
The NIA, which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), urged people to become familiar with the factors that can increase the risk of hyperthermia in seniors.
Which medical conditions increase the risk of heat-related health issues?
- Ailments that cause weakness or fever
- Heart, lung and kidney diseases
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Conditions requiring dietary changes (such as salt-restricted diets)
- Obesity, being overweight or underweight
- Age-related skin changes, such as poorly functioning sweat glands or poor circulation
Lifestyle factors that increase the risk of heat-related conditions
- Alcohol consumption
- Living in extremely hot living quarters
- Lack of transportation
- Wearing too many clothes
- Visiting overcrowded places
- Lack of understanding of weather conditions
Medication risks in hot weather
Certain medications, for example, those that decrease sweating, can put senior patients at a higher risk of developing heat-related medical conditions. People should never stop taking their medication without first consulting their healthcare provider, but those with concerns about the heat should be aware whether their medication regimen puts them at a higher risk, and should speak to their physician if they have any concerns.
Among the drug classes identified by the NIA as potentially increasing the risk of heat-related health conditions are diuretics, such as Microzide (hydrochlorothiazide), sedatives, tranquilizers, and some heart and blood pressure medication.
The government agency also warned that taking several drugs for a variety of ailments could also raise the risk of conditions associated with hot weather. Between 1988 and 2010, the average number of prescription medications used by adults over 65 years of age rose from two to four, according to a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
With many seniors on multiple medications, the NIA warned patients to continue to take their prescribed medication but recommended discussing any potential issues with their physician.
Tips for avoiding heat-related illnesses
- Don’t sit out in the sun, choose a cool place (air con is your friend!)
- Drink plenty of water and fluids, but avoid alcohol and caffeine
- Sponge off with cool water or take a cold shower or bath
- Lie down and rest in a cool place
- Visit a doctor or head to the emergency room if you can’t cool down quickly.
- Dress appropriately, opting for breathable, thin, loose-fitting clothes.
- Avoid crowded places when it’s hot outside.