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Understanding Heat-Related Health Dangers in Older Adults

With the summer season comes warmer temperatures. Prolonged exposure to excessive heat can be dangerous. So, before you head out to get some much-needed vitamin D, it’s important to recognize when heat is making you sick, and when to get help. Keep reading to learn more about heat-related illnesses and what you can do to cool yourself or your loved one down.

What are Hyperthermia, Heat Exhaustion, and Heat Stroke?

It’s worth noting that older adults are more prone to heat stress for a few reasons. First, older adults don’t adjust as well as young people to sudden changes in temperature. Second, chronic medical conditions can change normal body responses to heat. Third, prescription medicines may affect the body’s ability to control its temperature or sweat. Some heat-related illnesses include:

  • Hyperthermia. Usually the result of overexertion in hot and humid conditions, hyperthermia is having an abnormally high body temperature. Hyperthermia occurs when the body absorbs or generates more heat than it can release. A human’s normal body temp is about 98.6°F. Any body temperature above 99°F or 100°F is too warm. Hyperthermia describes a group of illnesses that include heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat rash, heat stress and heat stroke.

This is not the same as a fever. With hyperthermia, the body temperature rises to a “set point” which is controlled by the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that controls many body functions. With fevers, the hypothalamus actually raises the body temperature past a “set point” as a way to fight off infection.

  • Heat Exhaustion. This condition is the body’s way of saying it can’t cool itself. A person’s body temperature may stay normal, but their skin may feel cold and clammy. An older adult could have a rapid pulse as well. If heat exhaustion isn’t managed correctly, it can turn into heat stroke. This is considered as one of the stages of hyperthermia.

  • Heat Stroke. Think of heat stroke as the extreme stage of hyperthermia among these illnesses. It’s a medical emergency in which the body’s temperature rises above 104°F.

What are the Signs?


  • A body temperature of more than 104°F (40°C) is defined as severe hyperthermia

  • Activities that involve exercise in warm, humid, environments increase the risk of this condition

Heat Exhaustion

  • Feeling thirsty, dizzy, weak, uncoordinated, and nauseated

  • Having cold and clammy skin

  • Having a rapid pulse

  • Causes of heat exhaustion include exposure to high temperatures, particularly when combined with high humidity and strenuous physical activity

Heat Stroke

  • Fainting

  • Feeling confused or acting strangely

  • Not sweating even when it’s hot

  • Having dry, flushed skin

  • Having a strong, rapid pulse or a slow, weak pulse

  • Untreated heat stroke can damage your brain, heart, kidneys and muscles

How to Cool Someone Down

If you or your loved one are experiencing any of the symptoms previously mentioned, make sure to take the appropriate steps to cool off before symptoms progress to heat stroke. Keep cool by:

  • Stopping physical activity immediately, and proceed to rest in a cool, well-ventilated area

  • Removing any heavy or tight clothing

  • Hydrating and replenishing lost electrolytes by drinking slightly salty beverages. Sports drinks or water with a few teaspoons of salt mixed in will do the trick. Try to avoid caffeinated drinks

  • Applying a cool compress to your neck

  • Keeping irritated skin dry. You can apply a powder or ointment to reduce discomfort from a rash

  • Gently stretching any muscles that are cramping

  • Immersing yourself or your loved one in cool water if possible

If symptoms do not improve, please seek medical help immediately

Keeping It Cool with Presidio Home Care

We all deserve some time in the sunshine, and no one knows that more than Presidio Home Care Aides. Whether it’s providing companionship while taking a lovely outdoor stroll or reminding them to cool off in the shade and stay hydrated, our team is ready to deliver the supportive services your senior loved one needs. Contact us today to learn more.

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