Extreme heat can lead to very high body temperatures, brain and organ damage, and even death. On average, about 650 deaths each year are blamed on extreme heat, and heat-related deaths are on the rise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
People suffer heat-related illness when their bodies are unable to compensate and cool themselves properly. Extreme heat affects everyone, but the elderly, children, the poor or homeless, persons who work or exercise outdoors, and those with chronic medical conditions are most at risk. The CDC is urging people to prepare for extreme heat this summer by staying cool, hydrated, and informed.
“No one should die from a heat wave, but every year on average, extreme heat causes 658 deaths in the United States—more than tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and lightning combined,” said Robin Ikeda, MD, MPH, acting director of the National Center for Environmental Health and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. “Taking common sense steps in extreme temperatures can prevent heat-related illnesses and deaths.”
According to CDC’s Environmental Tracking Network from 1999 to 2009 three states, Arizona, California, and Texas accounted for approximately 40 percent of all heat-related deaths in the United States. Across the nation, heat-related deaths occur more frequently among males and among adults aged 65 and older.
Adults over 65 are more susceptible to heat-related illness because they don’t sweat as effectively and have poorer circulation. Obesity, heart disease, dementia, diabetes and other chronic medical conditions can compound the risk. So can certain medications, especially diuretics or those prescribed for hypertension and Parkinson’s disease.
Caregivers should stay on the alert for signs of confusion or altered mental states in seniors who are out in hot weather, as it could be a sign of heat stroke. Knowing the signs of heat stroke can save the life of you or a loved one. If you’re spending time in the sun and notice a flushed face, high body temperature, headache, nausea, rapid pulse, dizziness, or lack of sweating despite the heat, take immediate action! Move quickly by drinking water, applying an ice pack to the back of the neck and moving out of the sun.
Summer Safety Tips for Seniors
- Stay in air-conditioning as much as possible.
- Dress lightly.
- Stay hydrated. Drink more water and less coffee.
- Apply sunscreen early and often. Sunscreen needs time to work, so don’t wait until you’re out in the sun to use it. Try to apply sunscreen 30 to 60 minutes before you head outside, and be sure to reapply it every two hours. Choose a sunscreen over 30spf that protects against both UVA and UVB radiation.
- Protect your eyes. Wear wide sunglasses that protect against both UVA and UVB radiation to help reduce eye problems from cumulative damage, such as age-related macular degeneration or cataracts.