It’s been a challenging summer already for many older Americans, and it’s not over yet.
The United States recorded its hottest June in history, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. July started with a deadly heatwave in the Pacific Northwest, resulting in hundreds of heat-related illnesses and deaths. And August is typically one of the hottest months of the year.
The intense heat can be especially dangerous for older adults, said Dr. Gina Conflitti, chief medical officer for Cigna's Medicare businesses, which serves hundreds of thousands of seniors across the United States.
“Many senior citizens have preexisting conditions or take prescription drugs that can affect their body’s ability to sweat and control temperature,” Conflitti said. “So it’s really important for older adults to take care during the hot summer months.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 650 people die each year from heat-related illnesses – the majority occur in people over age 65. Seniors who are especially vulnerable are those who live alone, have underlying health conditions, or do not have access to air conditioning.
“Sadly, many heat-related illnesses and deaths can be prevented,” Conflitti said. She offered the following tips to ensure that older adults are protected throughout the remainder of the summer.
Check the weather forecast each day
That way you know exactly what to expect. Pay special attention to any heat advisories or warnings – and take them seriously.
Go to a cool place
During times of excessive heat, remain in an air-conditioned building. If you don’t have AC in your home, go somewhere that does – such as a shopping mall, movie theatre, library, or a family member or friend’s house. Senior centers, churches, and social service organizations in many communities often provide cooling centers when the temperatures rise, particularly during the heat of the day. If you need help paying your utility bill, some resources may be able to help you. Click here to learn about programs that are available in your community.
Make sure to hydrate
Drink more water than usual. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Avoid drinks containing alcohol.
Dress for the heat
Wear light, loose-fitting clothes in light colors. Remember to apply sunscreen to prevent sunburn, which makes it difficult for your body to cool down.
Take it easy
Limit strenuous activity. Take frequent breaks. Move slowly. Avoid the hottest part of the day. It’s safer to go out in the morning or evening than the middle of the day.
Address overheating immediately
If you think you are becoming too hot, take steps right away. Go to a cool place, rest, and drink plenty of water. Some symptoms of heat-related illness include muscle cramps, headaches, nausea, or vomiting. If you are exhibiting symptoms like these that don’t go away or get worse, seek medical care.
Stay close to loved ones
Conflitti advises caregivers to stay closely tied to their loved ones during hot weather. If you live in another area, check in on your loved ones regularly, and have the name and number of a neighbor who you can contact if needed.
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The information contained in this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen.