Older woman fanning herself outdoors

According to the National Weather Service, heat is one of the leading causes of weather-related deaths in the United States, causing hundreds of fatalities each year. Older adults are more susceptible to the dangers of higher temperatures, because as we grow older, our bodies become less efficient at regulating body temperature.

Fortunately, there are several things we can do to stay safe and cool, even in the midst of summer’s hottest days. Here are the top seven ways you can keep your cool this summer.

Drink plenty of fluids

We’ve all heard the advice to drink plenty of water. This becomes more important in the summertime, because on hot days, the body loses water more quickly. Seniors are at higher risk for dehydration, because not only does our sensitivity to heat dull as we age, so does our awareness of thirst. Additionally, as we age, our bodies don’t conserve water as well. If you are on a fluid-restricted diet, consult your physician about how to get the fluids you need during the hot summer months.

Keep your home as cool as possible

Don’t be afraid to turn up the air conditioning. To help save on energy costs, run the air conditioning only during the hottest parts of the day. Let in cool air in the early morning and late evening hours. If you need financial help to keep your home cool, contact the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

Seek out cool places

If your home isn’t air conditioned, take a break during the hottest part of the day by going to a movie, shopping at an indoor mall, or visiting a library.

Take a cool shower or bath

If you are housebound and don’t have air conditioning, get in the shower and run cool water or hop in a tub of cool water.

 Dress appropriately

Dress in lightweight, light-colored, and loose-fitting clothing, made of natural fabrics, like linen or cotton.

Avoid the peak hours of heat

If you must go outside to garden or run errands, plan this for the early morning hours, when it’s coolest. It you have a must-do event or errand, make sure your transportation is air conditioned and there’s A/C (or another way to keep cool) at your destination.

Eat well

Overeating causes the body to produce more heat. So eat less and eat foods that are “lighter” like fresh fruits and vegetables and salads. Consider supplementing your diet with folic acid – a study from Penn State showed that folic acid can enhance blood vessel dilation in older adults, which may help them to avoid heat-related issues such as heart attacks or strokes. Please consult with your doctor before adding any supplements to your diet.

 If problems arise…

Even when taking precautions, problems can occur. If you or a loved one experiences heavy sweating, weakness, a fast and weak pulse, nausea or fainting, this could be a sign of heat exhaustion. In this case, move to a cool location as quickly as possible. Lie down, loosen clothing and apply cool, wet cloths to as much of the body as possible. Sip some cool water.

Heat stroke is a more serious situation and is characterized by a body temperature above 103 degrees, hot and red skin, a rapid and strong pulse, and sometimes unconsciousness. In this case, call 911 immediately. Before paramedics arrive, move the person to a cooler environment, apply cool cloths, but do NOT give them fluids.

Enjoy your summer!

Don’t let summer’s heat slow you down. By following these tips, almost everyone should be able to have a safe and healthy summer.