As states throughout the country continue to experience mid-to-high 90° degree days, finding ways to beat the heat is on everyone’s mind. But no one wants to spend the remainder of summer cooped up in a home with the windows closed and the AC cranked up high. 

Instead, many of us would rather explore the great outdoors, fit in a few more trips to the lake, or head on over to the golf course to savor these last few weeks of summer left.

Aging & Heat Tolerance

When you were in your 20s, you probably remember staying outdoors for hours at a time. In fact, you may have gotten your fair share of sunburns that you’d rather forget about. But too much heat and sun exposure isn’t good for anyone, especially as we get older.

The combination of high temperatures and high humidity for long periods of time may lead to hyperthermia—an umbrella term used to describe conditions that result from abnormally high body temperatures (i.e. overheating).

According to the National Institute on Aging, these conditions include:

  • Heat syncope – If you are working outside, you may experience dizziness that comes out of nowhere.
  • Heat cramps – A tightening of your muscles while performing strenuous activities in the heat can cause you to experience heat cramps.
  • Heat edema – This condition causes ankles and feet to swell during high temperatures
  • Heat exhaustion – Dizziness, nausea, and feeling uncoordinated, or significantly drained of energy, are all examples of heat exhaustion. You may also notice that your skin feels cold and clammy.

What temperature is dangerous for the elderly?

The National Heat Index (NHI) chart advises individuals to use caution when the temperature reaches 80°F, as prolonged heat exposure and physical activity may increase symptoms of fatigue. 

When the weather reaches 90°F and above, the chart advises individuals to use extreme caution, as sunstroke, heat exhaustion, cramps, and other hyperthermia conditions may develop.

Anything above 100°F is considered dangerous with increased risk of heat stroke (also referred to as sunstroke). This serious condition occurs when your internal body temperature reaches above 104°F.

Though the NHI provides helpful information for all age groups, it’s especially beneficial to older adults who cannot tolerate heat and humidity for longer periods. This is due to certain age-related changes in the body that make it more difficult to adequately respond to drastic shifts in temperatures. 

5 Ways Seniors Can Beat the Summer Heat

There are many ways you can stay proactive and protect yourself from the heat this summer. Below, we’ve listed a few helpful tips on how to stay cool and enjoy the weeks ahead.

Keep a Water Bottle Handy

Though water is important for everyone, you may discover that as you get older, you sweat less or that your body doesn’t react to sudden changes in rising temperature. 

For instance, if you go outside for a walk, after spending hours in an air conditioned apartment home, you might not react to the extreme change in temperature normally. Additionally, certain medications can also cause you to experience reduced sweating. Remember, sweating is our body’s natural way of regulating our internal temperature. So, if you’re unable to sweat properly, you may have a harder time staying cool. 

We recommend always having a bottle of water near you, or having a pre-filled pitcher of water in your fridge to fill up on throughout the day. 

Avoid Caffeine

Speaking of staying hydrated—though you might be tempted to grab a large glass of iced tea to stay cool, it’s best to stick to water. 

Drinking juice or soda pop doesn’t contribute to your hydration. In fact, many of these drinks contain caffeine and sugar, with little to no nutritional value. Additionally, these drinks tend to make you urinate more frequently, and since the goal is to stay hydrated in order to cool off from the extreme heat, you’ll want to make sure water is your go-to drink!

If you know you will be spending time outdoors, remember to drink water before you leave, and bring a bottle with you for the trip!

Welcome the Shade

Even though you may not be able to stay in the shade all the time, remember to seek it whenever you can. It’s much cooler under a canopy or a tree and it can help you avoid unwanted sunburn. 

If you enjoy hikes, try to stick to trails that are well shaded. If you plan to spend some time at the golf course, try to schedule an earlier tee time, with a few scheduled breaks in the shade in-between holes.

There is nothing better than nature’s natural shade! Just remember that the hottest parts of the day are 3 p.m., as the sun is at a lower position for outgoing heat. Try to avoid going out during this time. 

Keep an Eye on Air Quality

In addition to watching the temperature and humidity rise, be sure to keep an eye on the National Air Quality Index (AQI). Each state and local area will report its AQI to inform residents on air pollution that day and how it will impact your breathing.

The summer months are no stranger to wildfires, due to dry climates and high temperatures. As a result, you may notice smoke or a hazy look to your outdoor surroundings, if you live in such regions. These conditions will affect air quality, as well, and make breathing much more difficult. 

Therefore, it’s a good idea to pay attention to the AQI in your area and plan your schedule around it.

Know the Signs

Be on the lookout for signs of overheating, and if you are experiencing them, be sure to contact your doctor immediately. 

Common symptoms may include:

  • Dizziness or confusion
  • Incoordination
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue and exhaustion

For more information on heat tolerance and aging, check out this resource from the National Institute on Aging. Be sure to also talk to your healthcare team for other tips on beating the heat!

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