Understanding Heat Tolerance in the Elderly

Seniors have a much lower heat tolerance than their younger counterparts. Illness and physiological changes increase the risk of injury and harm, making it essential to monitor elderly individuals when they are exercising, wearing multiple layers, or spending time in the sunshine.

In this guide, we’ll address some of the potential issues caused by reduced heat tolerance in the elderly, while helping you to prevent and treat this issue.

Tips for Avoiding Heat Stress in the Elderly

Not only do seniors have a lower tolerance for heat, but they are more likely to suffer from dehydration. These things combined place them at great risk in certain situations, so read the following steps to learn how to help to keep them safe.

Keep Them Hydrated

Your body needs fluids for optimal function. The old “8 glasses of water” recommendation applies here, but it goes much deeper than that. Seniors may need more water if they sweat a lot, wear multiple layers, exercise frequently, live in a hot climate, or take diuretic medications. 

Coffee, tea, fruit juice, flavored water, and even milk all count towards your daily fluid needs, but it’s important to keep sugar and caffeine to a minimum. Contrary to popular belief, small amounts of tea and coffee are not dehydrating, but they’re also not good for you when consumed to excess.

Dehydration creeps up unexpectedly, especially in seniors, as their thirst signals are not as effective. It needs to be monitored and prevented, otherwise, the risk of organ damage, fatigue, dizziness, kidney stones, and a host of other conditions will increase.

Eat Whole Foods

Most of the fluids you need are supplied by the foods you eat, or at least, that should be the case. The problem is that many Americans live off of a diet of processed foods, dried foods, and fried snacks.  

A cup of fresh apple has 2 ounces of water. A watermelon has a massive 145 ounces! A diet of whole foods contains much more water and nutrients than a diet of processed foods. It still helps to get a top-up of fresh water, herbal tea, and other healthy drinks, but it becomes much less essential on a whole food diet.

Keep Them Inside During Heatwaves

Thinner skin and dehydration mean seniors are less tolerant of heatwaves and direct sunlight in general. They should stay indoors between 10 AM and 5 PM, when the sun is at its hottest. Outside of these times, they should wear plenty of sunscreen and keep their head, neck, and face covered with a peaked cap.

They can be exposed inside the house, as well as outside. Make sure they have the air conditioning turned on, increase their fluid intake, and spend time in the coolest room of the house.

Dress Them Appropriately

While thick clothes and multiple layers are important during the winter, it’s better to stick with light, comfortable, moisture-wicking clothing in the summer. Bright-colored cotton and linen are great for the summer months, as both are natural, light, and breathable. 

A few accessories can complete the look and provide some extra cover. Sunglasses or tinted prescription lenses will protect the eyes while a hat will cover the face.

Don’t Overdo the Exercise

Exercise is important at all ages, and it is recommended that seniors get at least 2.5 hours of moderate exercise a week. It helps with core strength, agility, and heart health, but it’s important not to overdo it when exercising during the summer months.

Stay cool, drink plenty of water, and monitor activity when walking, jogging, or doing chores. This is especially important when the humidity is high, as the risk of overheating increases substantially.

Monitor Their Fluid Levels and Habits

It’s not always enough just to tell a loved one to drink more and stay out of the heat. Some seniors are stubborn and will do what they want. Others don’t understand how serious the situation is and take liberties with their health.

To make sure they are staying on track, monitor their fluid intake and exercise levels. Check that they have regular access to fresh and cold water, and stock their fridge with juices. Buy lots of sunscreen and caps and confirm that their air conditioning is working.