The elderly need to stay safe in summer heat

“Summertime, and the living is easy,” with outdoor concerts, fairs, sporting events and no snow. But as the temperatures rise so do the risks for heat-related injuries.

As reported on the CDC website: “To prevent heat related hospitalizations and deaths it is a good idea for elders to be mindful of hot weather safety tips. One reason for the need to be proactive as Geriatrician William Greenbough notes, “Senior’s don’t have as great an ability to sweat as younger people and sweat is how you cool yourself.” An elder’s reduced ability to regulate body temperature can also be exacerbated due to certain prescription medications and some health conditions. The consequences of this temperature instability may impede an individuals self-cooling mechanisms which can impact one’s health particularly in hot conditions.

One serious health concern that is more common in warmer and more humid months is dehydration. This health condition that can have serious consequences if left untreated. Many elders are at increased risk for dehydration due to the loss of the sensation of being thirsty. Also, some seniors may choose to drink less because more drinks may mean more trips to the bathroom. Dietician Shirley Winslett notes, that one should not rely on thirst alone as a guide to pour a beverage. Because, she adds, “by the time one becomes thirsty, it is likely that you are already dehydrated.”

To help reduce the risk for dehydration, drink water. Many might also benefit from including sports drinks that contain electrolytes especially on hot days that are spent outdoors (this can be reviewed with your health care professional). Since caffeinated beverages have a diuretic effect (reduces water in the body) it is recommended to limit or avoid these beverages when the heat is oppressive. Oh yeah, alcohol increases rather than decreases, the body’s water need and should not be included as a replenishing liquid. Symptoms of dehydration include (but are not limited to) weakness, headache, muscle cramps, rapid heart rate, dizziness, confusion and difficulty walking. Dehydration, along with other heat related health changes require prompt medical follow-up.

Some tips to help stay safe when temperatures soar above 90 degrees include staying hydrated, and out of the sun during the hottest times of the day. Wear sunscreen and move into an air-conditioned environment. In most homes, staying in the coolest part of the house, which is often the lower level, may bring the most relief and make use of fans. For a quick cool down, geriatric specialist Calvin Hirsch recommends rubbing wet washcloths over ones face, wrists, and back of neck. When able, dress lightly, such as wearing loose, light colored clothes. A scorching summer day may be best spent at a movie, or library or neighborhood community center. To learn more about local cooling centers contact your local Public Health Department. Also, the Home Energy Assistance Summer Crisis Program provides a one-time benefit for cooling assistance during the summer months. Information on both can be found in the links below. It is strongly encouraged to reach out to neighbors, friends and family who would benefit from a check-in during above average temperatures.

Marci Vandersluis is a licensed social worker and has a master’s degree in gerontology. She is employed as a care manager assisting older adults in the community connect with needed services. Email:


Dayton and Montgomery County Public Health Department: 937-225-5700 or

Energy Assistance Program/Ohio Summer Crisis Program: 800-282-0880 or

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