- Ada, Oklahoma


June 29, 2014

Extreme heat can have adverse effects on older adults

Ada — Extreme heat in the summer is nothing new for Oklahomans. They do their best to keep cool as the temperature rises.

While some people enjoy the warm weather, the combination of high humidity and excessive heat can be dangerous, especially for older adults.

When a person’s body cannot properly cool itself, it increases the risks for heat-related illnesses. Older adults are more susceptible to hyperthermia, a common heat-related illness that results in a dangerously high body temperature.

The most common form of hyperthermia is heatstroke. Heatstroke occurs when a person’s body temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Prolonged exposure to hot temperatures and high humidity, existing health problems, some medications and being older all can increase the risk of heatstroke.

When body temperature rises above 107 degrees Fahrenheit, it can be fatal. Older adults are more susceptible to hyperthermia because sweat glands, which normally help regulate the body’s temperature, often diminish in number as a person ages, while those remaining may not function as well. This slows older adults’ ability to properly regulate their temperature.

Certain medical conditions common to old age such as diabetes, dehydration and heart, kidney and central nervous systems diseases, can further decrease the body’s ability to regulate temperature. Normal age-related skin changes also can make it more difficult for older adults to regulate their body temperature and adjust to extreme heat.

Older adults are at additional risks for heat-related illnesses if they are overweight, underweight, drink alcoholic beverages, live in homes without fans or air conditioners, go outside on hot and humid days and overdress or wear the wrong type of fabrics in hot weather.

On hot, humid days, older adults are encouraged to stay inside in an air-conditioned or well-ventilated building. It is important to note that fans alone may not produce enough cooling effect to help individuals regulate body temperature on extremely hot days.

Those without air conditioners should take cool baths or showers and seek accommodations that offer cool air,

such as the home of a family member or friend, a church or a community center. Other air-conditioned places that can help a person escape from the heat include malls, grocery stores, public libraries or heat-relief shelters.

Individuals also can reduce their risk for heat-related illnesses by limiting outdoor physical activity on hot days to the early morning or late evening, wearing lightweight, light-colored and loose-fitting clothes, wide-brimmed hats and sunscreen. Those who must work outdoors during extremely hot and humid weather should, if possible, take frequent breaks in a shaded area.

Regardless of age, it is never a good idea to sit or stay in a vehicle on a hot day. Temperatures inside an enclosed parked car can get as much as 19 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the outside temperature in just 10 minutes and reach 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than outdoors within an hour. It’s always important to check on older friends, relatives and neighbors during extreme heat to make sure they are weathering the heat well.

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