According to the CDC, an average of 658 people a year die from heat-related illnesses that are completely preventable.[1] We will discuss various tips on how to plan ahead for outdoor summer outings, as well as the risk factors and the signs and symptoms associated with heat-related illnesses.

The summers are always jammed packed with all kinds of outdoor activities, which are usually welcomed with open arms, after being cooped up inside during the winter months. For instance, say your older loved one tells you they would like to go to a summer concert in the park, maybe a Lawrence Welk show tribute. I’m sure there is such a thing. You tell your loved one “sure” and that you will go with them. The concert is at 4pm, so with it being not in the hottest part of the day, you thought it would be ok. You brought along water, sunscreen, comfortable folding chairs and sunglasses. All prepared, right? Wrong! Now that means you have to keep reading. There are just a few more things to consider in this particular scenario. What is your loved one wearing? Are they wearing dark clothing, that is also not breathable fabric? Did they bring a hat for some shade? Is there shade or shelter in the park, if it got to be too hot? What about a snack? The key is planning ahead!

Ways to Beat the Heat

Some of the tips below are common sense, but always a great reminder. There are so many details to keep track of all the time when helping care for an elderly loved one. It is definitely easy to forget some of these things.

Stay Hydrated – As one ages they lose the ability to conserve water, and also become less aware of their thirst. [2] So if they say they are not thirsty, they still need to drink water. If they are really struggling to get in the recommended 8 cups of water a day, be creative. You can add their favorite fruits to the water, such as strawberries or peaches. You could even add fresh mint leaves or cucumbers to the water. Drinking juices will not be as hydrating as water. Then keep in mind coffee, tea and sodas are dehydrating. Older adults do not adapt to dehydration well and the recovery is much longer. This puts them at a greater risk for heat-related illness. If your loved one is mild to moderately dehydrated, especially if they were outside in the heat, it is a good idea to give them some Gatorade to replace the electrolytes that were lost. If the dehydration is severe, with symptoms such as extreme thirst, less frequent urination, or dizziness, seek immediate medical attention.

Dress Appropriately – Dark clothing absorbs the heat. So it is best to wear light-colored, loose fitted clothing. Also, choose clothing that is made of breathable fabric. Natural fabrics such as cotton, linen or silk are cooler than synthetic fabrics. Then pick a fashionable wide brim hat for shade along with sunglasses to protect their eyes from the harmful UV rays. Too much exposure to the sun can irritate the eyes and cause further damage.

Wear Sunscreen – When trying to get out the door and remember everything else, sunscreen can be easily forgotten. So keep a bottle of it in the car at all times. Always get a 30 spf or higher and it should be reapplied every hour or two.

Do not stay out for too long – The ability to regulate core body temperature, during heat stress, decreases as one ages. [3]

Alternatives to Outdoor Activities – On the days that are just absolute scorchers, it is best to avoid being outdoors as much as possible. A few options for you and your loved one to do in air conditioning are: to go to the movies, to visit a museum, to go to an indoor mall, checkout your local library and their summer events, as well as the local senior center.

Run the Air-Conditioning – There is this myth that if you keep your house all closed up, it will keep it cool. This theory has been debunked. It may work for the early morning, but then once the sun starts beating down on the roof, it will get hot. It is best to close things up, and run the air conditioning. If your loved one is concerned about trying to conserve energy, explain that if you wait to turn it on later, when the temperature in the house is much higher, it will take that much more energy to cool the house down. If there is no central air and financially it is not an option, contact your local Area Agency on Aging. They can refer you to organizations who can assist older adults with air conditioning units or additional fans. There is also the Federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). If qualifications are met, they can help older adults cover the costs of air conditioners or help with utility bills.

Check Side Effects of Medication – Some medications can make you more sensitive to the sun. Other medications can impair the body’s ability to react efficiently as temperatures rise. Check with your loved one’s physician or pharmacist about their medications and if any pose risks related to higher temperatures.

Know the Signs of Heat-Related Illness

What is Heat-Related Illness?

Heat-related illness, also known as hyperthermia, is a condition that is a result of exposure to extreme heat, where the body becomes unable to properly cool, resulting in a rapid rise in body temperature. [4] Two of the most dangerous heat-related illnesses are heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat Exhaustion

Symptoms Include:

  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dizzy or fainting
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Breathing is rapid and shallow
  • Possibly cool or moist skin

Heat Stroke

If heat exhaustion goes left untreated, it can then lead to heat stroke. A heat stroke is a very serious, life threatening condition.

Symptoms Include:

  • A body temperature greater than 103
  • Dry flushed skin
  • Disorientation
  • Lack of sweating

If your loved one is exhibiting any of these symptoms of heat-related illness, move them to a cooler place, give them water, and seek immediate medical attention.

Risk Factors

If a person is overweight, fatal heatstroke occurs 3.5 times more frequently, compared to those who are average in weight. [5] Individuals who who have diabetes, cardiovascular diseases or respiratory disease all have a significantly higher risk of a heat-related illness.

Remember that heat-related illnesses are preventable. Consider these tips when planning an outing. Even if you and your loved one are just going to get their favorite maple walnut or butter pecan ice cream cone, you should bring water, look for shade, etc. Those are great flavors by the way, no ice cream discrimination here. Then also know what to look for in terms of heat-related illnesses and seek immediate care. Being prepared and educated will allow you and your older loved one to truly enjoy all the fun that summer has to offer. Savor these moments with them!