When we get older, our bodies don't adjust well to the heat, and our natural defenses against the heat are weakened. Worse, we also lose our ability to realize when we're too hot.
Add to this the usual physical problems of aging, as our bodies and its intricate inner workings become less efficient, and the increased likelihood of older adults to use medications. Medicine for high blood pressure, for example, restricts the opening of blood vessels near the skin's surface-- one of the body's most crucial mechanisms for reducing the body's temperature.
Here are safety tips for older adults-- as well as the rest of us-- during this hot summer:
Aging decreases our sense of thirst, so drink water or fruit juice at regular intervals throughout the day (it doesn't matter if you're not thirsty). Plan to drink at least 6 to 8 tall glasses of cool fluids.
DO NOT drink alcoholic or caffeinated beverages, including coffee and tea.
DO NOT take salt tablets.
Close drapes and shades in the sunlight. Open windows at night.
When the indoor temperature is 90 degrees, turn fans to blow air out the windows. However, fans will not effectively cool a person once the temperature is 100 degrees.
If you don't have air-conditioning, call your local police, your church, neighbor, or a community group to take you to the nearest cooling center (such as a church, mall, or library). After the deadly 1995 heat wave in Chicago, surveys of elderly people found most who didn't have air-conditioning were afraid to leave their house, didn't have transportation, or couldn't or didn't want to walk to cooling centers.
Check with your doctor or pharmacist about how the medication you're taking may affect your ability to tolerate the heat. Tranquilizers, anti-depressants, and medicine for chronic conditions such as heart or blood pressure medication are most likely to affect your heat tolerance. DO NOT REDUCE YOUR MEDICATION UNLESS UNDER THE ADVICE OF A DOCTOR! But it's important to know your additional risk for heat stress so you can take other precautions.
Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing made from natural fibers, like cotton, which "breathe" easier.
Take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath.
Have family, friends, neighbors, church members, a community group or police check on your well-being.
Establish a buddy system with friends and neighbors to check on each other.