Preventing Heat-Related Illnesses in Older Adults

Learn how to prevent heat-related illnesses and keep senior loved ones safe during the summer months.

Sitting poolside, taking a family trip, or even just tending to the garden, it’s summer and many people are getting out to enjoy the warm weather. However, as temperatures rise, so does the risk for heat-related illnesses such as heat stroke, heat exhaustion, and others. Older adults are particularly prone to these conditions because they have a harder time adjusting to sudden temperature changes. Additionally, seniors are often likely to have one or more chronic illnesses that require taking multiple medications, which can make regulating body temperature more challenging.

Living in a hotter than average climate, like Arizona, also increases the risk for heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses. Because of these risk factors, it is important to be aware of the health conditions that can be triggered by excessive heat and learn how to help older adults stay safe in high temperatures while enjoying the sunshine.

  • Heat Syncope: The sudden feeling of dizziness after being active in hot weather is known as heat syncope. This illness can happen to anyone, but those taking beta blockers are at an increased risk. If an older loved one begins to feel dizzy or faint, take them to a cool place to rest and drink water. If possible, allow them to put their legs up until the dizziness subsides.
  • Heat Rash: It is common to get sweaty when out in hot weather. However, excessive sweat and heat can irritate the skin causing small blisters to form. The skin may also feel a tingling pain. If you notice these symptoms of heat rash in a loved one, dry the skin and use a powder to sooth the rash. Stay out of the heat as much as possible until it clears up.
  • Heat Exhaustion: When out in the sun for too long, the body can struggle to cool itself. If a senior loved one feels dizzy, uncoordinated, weak, thirsty, or nauseated, this could be a sign of heat exhaustion. Another indicator is that the person is sweating, but their skin feels cold and clammy. They may also have a rapid pulse. If you notice any of these signs, find a cool place to rest and have them drink plenty of fluids. If they do not start to feel better after a few minutes, get them to a doctor.
  • Heat Stroke: Heat stroke is a medical emergency where a person’s body temperature rises above 104 degrees. If an older loved one exhibits signs of heat stroke, such as confusion, fainting, lack of sweat despite the heat, flushed skin, strong, rapid pulse or slow, weak pulse, take action right away. Move them to a cool place and try to lower body temperature with cool clothes, fans, or a cool bath or shower. Seek medical assistance immediately.
  • Sun poisoning: Many of us have had a sunburn at one time or another, with surface level pain and irritation. Sun poisoning, however, is a severe case of sunburn that leads to blistering, peeling, and swelling of the skin. A person with sun poisoning may also have a headache, fever and chills, nausea, dizziness, and dehydration. If you notice these symptoms in a loved one, move them out of the sun, apply a cool (not cold) compress to the affected area, encourage them to drink extra fluids, take pain relivers as needed, and apply aloe gel to the burn. Seek medical attention if the burn blisters, covers a large area of the body, is very painful, or if the senior exhibits other signs such as headache, confusion, dehydration, or fever and chills.

Keeping older loved ones safe during the long, hot Arizona summers is crucial. Some basic tips to follow to reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses include:

  • Always apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher 15-20 minutes before going outside. Reapply at least every two hours or if the person has been sweating or in the water.
  • Try to stay indoors or in cooler areas during the hottest times of the day, usually from 10 a.m. to sunset.
  • Make sure the senior wears sunglasses, a hat, and protective clothing.
  • Ask the senior’s doctor if any of their medications might make them more vulnerable to heat-related illnesses.

How Can an In-Home Caregiver Help?

The team at Nightingale Homecare understands both the need for older adults to stay active in their community and the potential dangers of hot weather. Our professional caregivers can accompany older adults on outings to help monitor for heat-related illnesses, encourage proper hydration, and assist with taking breaks from the sun as needed. We can also accompany families on vacation to ensure that older loved ones have fun in the sun, but also have a companion with them when they need to be indoors. Reach out to us at (602) 903-6793 or contact us online to learn more about our wide range of in-home care services in Phoenix, Paradise Valley, Scottsdale, Sun City, Peoria, and the surrounding areas.