You have every reason to be alarmed. Seniors overheating is a serious concern; according to the CDC, 40% of heat-related fatalities in the US are people over 65. Southerners may be accustomed to hot summer temperatures, but when the humidity increases the heat index, the risk of hyperthermia in elderly people can skyrocket.
Older people may be at higher risk for overheating for several reasons. Seniors tend to have poor circulation and do not sweat as effectively as younger adults, rendering them unable to regulate body temperature naturally. Additional health conditions, such as obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and even dementia, may also interfere with their ability to maintain a normal temperature. Certain medications for these and other conditions, especially diuretics, may also lead to dehydration or limit a senior’s ability to stay within normal temperature ranges.
Signs and Symptoms
You should know what to look for if your loved one gets overheated. You can’t rely on sweatiness as a clue, but these indicators may be present:
• Altered mental state
• Nausea or upset stomach
• Flushed face
Take note of the environment and circumstances as well. Have they been outside in the hottest part of the day? Have they been exercising, gardening, or performing other physical labor? Are they overdressed for the weather? Is their home warm or lacking good ventilation? The combination of interior temperature and exterior situations can pack a big wallop.
The Obstinate Factor
You mentioned your father’s stubbornness, and you are right, that plays a part in the risk of seniors overheating. If your loved one does not feel hot, he may not agree to turn on the air conditioning or take off that sweater. Here are a few suggestions to help your father stay comfortable and safe without turning every hot day into a battle:
• Air conditioning is the best way to stay cool. Encourage your loved one to stay inside and run the A/C during the hottest hours of the day. You may want to have a programmable thermostat installed to make it easier to monitor the indoor temperature.
• If your senior does not have A/C, plan frequent trips to cool indoor spots. The library, mall, or a dark movie theater are all good places to stay out of the sun, and your loved one may even be able to wear a favorite sweater inside!
• Dressing lightly is essential. Loose fitting clothing in lighter colors can make a difference in body temperature.
• Hydration is also important. Some seniors may not drink enough water any time of year, but try to get them to drink more and cut back on sugary sodas or too much coffee. When in doubt, offer popsicles or other icy treats to replace fluids. Beverages with electrolytes may also be a good choice.
• Frequent showers or baths can also be helpful, especially if the water is cool. This approach may not work well for seniors who have difficulty with personal hygiene, but if you notice the onset of overheating, it can help lower the risk of seniors overheating.
• Provide box fans or other portable fans to keep air moving inside. A box fan on a shady porch can also do wonders to beat the heat.
• Check in daily or have a neighbor or friend stop by to make sure your senior is healthy and comfortable.
Good luck with your father this summer and stay cool!