Why Are Seniors Susceptible to Hyperthermia and Heat Exhaustion?
It’s no surprise that the elderly (ages 65 and over) are more susceptible to heat stress than younger people. The reason is simple. Elderly people cannot adjust to sudden changes in temperatures the same way younger individuals can. When exposed to extreme heat, it’s very important for seniors to quickly find relief to prevent any major issues.
Hyperthermia and Heat Illnesses
Hyperthermia comes in many different forms, all posing dangerous risks to the elderly. The most common illnesses that can occur include:
- Heat Syncope – This is a sudden onset of dizziness that happens when someone is overly active in the heat. It can cause the body to feel faint, weak, and fatigued. Symptoms can subside by drinking fluids and resting in a cool place.
- Heat Cramps – Another common illness associated with hyperthermia, this is a tightening of the muscles in the stomach, arms, or legs. The cramps are usually a result of exercising or hard work in very hot conditions. Staying hydrated and finding relief from the heat is key.
- Heat Edema – This is when limbs swell from the body overheating. Again, drinking fluids, getting to a cool place and elevating the legs are important.
- Heat Exhaustion – One of the most common forms of hyperthermia, heat exhaustion is a warning that the body is overheating. This can cause dizziness, weak feelings, nausea, thirst, and sweating. The body is trying to regulate its temperature and so it’s common to feel cold and clammy. Heat exhaustion can progress into heat stroke so it’s important to seek medical attention if symptoms don’t subside after moving to a cooler area.
- Heat Stroke – If older people experience symptoms of dehydration, confusion, agitation, an increased body temperature, slowed pulse or episodes of fainting, it’s imperative to seek medical attention right away.
Heat Stroke and Exhaustion Risk Factors
While all seniors are susceptible to hyperthermia from heat exposure, there are some risk factors that can exacerbate symptoms.
These risk factors for seniors include:
- Heart or blood vessel issues
- Changes in the skin from aging
- Heart, lung, or kidney disease
- Being on high blood pressure medicines or other heart–related medications
- Drinking alcohol or being dehydrated
- Being overweight or underweight
If avoiding the heat for short periods of time is not an option, there are steps seniors can take to reduce their risk of falling victim to hyperthermia or any related illnesses. Staying hydrated is always important, but is especially critical when exposed to high temperatures. Dress for the weather and wear clothes that allow for proper air circulation. If possible, avoid exercise when temperatures are higher than what is comfortable outside. And most importantly, have a place in mind to get cool when any symptoms of heat exposure occur.
Offering Support for Seniors at McGregor PACE
Navigating health issues can be more difficult as you age. If you are 55 or older, consider finding support through the many services we offer at McGregor PACE.