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5 Steps To Protect Against Extreme Heat’s Effects On Seniors

By Kathy N. Johnson, PhD, CMC

Extreme heat is a leading cause of preventable death among seniors and with recent record-breaking temperatures, it is important seniors and caregivers know how to stay safe in hot weather. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more people in the United States die from extreme heat than earthquakes, hurricanes, lightning, floods and tornadoes combined. Of these preventable heat-related deaths, seniors account for 40 percent, according to Dr. Thomas Cavalieri, founder of the New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging.

As people age, their bodies cannot cool down as well as when they were younger. Elderly people may not feel as hot when temperatures are very high and are less likely to feel thirsty when their bodies are near dehydration, according to experts at the American Geriatric Society’s Foundation for Health in Aging.

Here are five tips to help seniors stay safe in hot weather:

  1. If possible seek an air-conditioned environment. If you do not have air-conditioning at home, visit an air-conditioned shopping mall, restaurant or library. During extreme heat warnings, cities often set up cooling centers for the public to escape the heat. If you cannot leave your home, take a cool shower or place cool towels around pulse points such as the neck and armpits.
  2. Drink plenty of cool, non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverages without too much sugar. When the body sweats, it loses vital salts and minerals, so grab a sports drink or a Pedialyte. If your liquid intake is limited, eat cold fruits that contain high amounts of water like apples, watermelon and cantaloupe.
  3. Stay out of the sun during the warmest parts of the day—usually between 10 or 11 am and 3 or 4 pm—and wear weather appropriate clothing that is loose fitting with light fabrics.
  4. Use a buddy system. Ask a friend or relative to call and check on you twice a day. If you know someone 60 or older, call to check on them twice a day.
  5. Hire a caregiver from a reputable agency that specializes in in-home senior care and who is trained in senior safety. They can provide care on an hourly or live-in basis, depending on the senior’s needs.

Editor’s note: Parentgiving contributor Kathy Johnson, PhD, CMC, has just co-authored the book, Happy to 102: The Best Kept Secrets to a Long and Happy Life . Centenarians are the fastest growing segment of our population. According to the Census Bureau, in 50 years, more than 1 million Americans will live past the age of 102, a trend that continues into Canada and across the globe. And as we live longer, we will want to enjoy improved healthspan alongside increased lifespan and so the question becomes, “What can we do to maintain a high quality of life as we age?” The answers to this question can be found in Dr. Johnson’s book, which lays out the factors–diet, exercise, sociability, mental challenge, sense of purpose–that make the difference not only in how long we live, but in how well we live. Based on the ground-breaking Okinawa Centenarian Study, Happy to 102 spells out precisely what it takes to delay or escape Alzheimer's and other chronic diseases, slow down the aging process, and enjoy better health.