I went out for a walk when the temperature was in the late 20s and turned back after 15 minutes without getting to where I was intending to go – the local park. My body started to slow down under the blazing sun and I began to feel quite dehydrated pretty quickly despite having drunk quite a lot of water during the day. It wasn’t sunstroke but it would have been foolish to have carried on with my original plan. Instead, I came home and sat in the shade in my garden.

Gone are the days when my younger self would sit out in the sun (with sun protection on) for hours on end. A heatwave would see me abandon routine for a vibey day in the sun. These days my older body isn’t adapting to the heat quite so well but there are biological reasons for this.

Why Older Adults Are More Vulnerable to Heat

  1. Reduced Ability to Regulate Body Temperature: As we age, our bodies become less efficient at regulating temperature. This means that older adults might not sweat as much, making it harder to cool down. Additionally, changes in skin and circulation can impair the body’s ability to dissipate heat.
  2. Chronic Health Conditions: Many older adults live with chronic health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and respiratory issues. These conditions can be exacerbated by heat, leading to severe complications. For instance, heart conditions can be strained by the body’s efforts to cool itself, and respiratory issues can be worsened by poor air quality often associated with hot weather.
  3. Medications: Certain medications commonly prescribed for older adults can interfere with the body’s ability to stay cool. Diuretics, for example, increase fluid loss, and some medications can alter the body’s response to heat. It’s important for older adults to be aware of how their medications might affect their heat tolerance.
  4. Decreased Thirst Sensation: As people age, the sensation of thirst can diminish, leading to inadequate fluid intake. Dehydration is a significant risk factor during hot weather, as it can quickly lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

While everyone can feel the effects of the heat, older individuals are particularly vulnerable to the dangers of high temperatures. There is plenty of advice on how to stay cool and to look after yourself during hot days and you will find some of these below.

Tips for Staying Cool and Safe – Obvious Ones but Easy to Forget

  1. Stay Hydrated: Drinking plenty of water is crucial. Older adults should aim to drink fluids regularly, even if they don’t feel thirsty. Avoid drinks with caffeine and alcohol, as they can contribute to dehydration.
  2. Wear Appropriate Clothing: Lightweight, loose-fitting clothing made of natural fibers like cotton can help the body stay cool. Light-colored clothes reflect heat, whereas dark colors absorb it.
  3. Stay Indoors During Peak Heat: The sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. During these hours, it’s best to stay indoors in a cool or air-conditioned space. I have a fan which I switch on at certain points of the day but I understand that this isn’t an option for everyone given the cost of living worries over utility bills. Dampening a cloth with cool water and placing it on the neck, wrists, or forehead can help bring down body temperature.
  4. Take Cool Showers or Baths: A cool shower or bath can be an effective way to lower body temperature. Even sponging off with cool water can help.
  5. Monitor the Weather: Pay attention to heat advisories and warnings. Plan outdoor activities for cooler parts of the day, such as early morning or late evening.

Recognizing Heat-Related Illness

Understanding the signs of heat-related illness is crucial. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, weakness, cold and clammy skin, fast and weak pulse, nausea, or fainting. Heat stroke, a more severe condition, can present with a high body temperature (above 103°F), hot and dry skin, rapid and strong pulse, confusion, and loss of consciousness. If heat stroke is suspected, seek emergency medical attention immediately.

Remember, a little preparation can go a long way in ensuring a safe and enjoyable summer.

Stay cool, stay safe, and enjoy the sunshine responsibly! ☀️