Older adults at greater risk of being affected by hot weather and sun

Older adults are at a greater risk of being affected by the hot weather and sun during summer months. There are many physiological changes that affect a senior’s ability to stay cool during the summer months.

I thought if I wrote about summer and heat perhaps we would be blessed by actually having some warm and sunny weather in the Comox Valley.

Wishful thinking…

Having come back from three glorious weeks in the Ontario and Interior heat wave, our family spent every day outside in the sun. Transitioning from the Comox Valley weather to Toronto’s searing hot and humid weather was a shock to our system and we learned firsthand the importance of taking the necessary precautions to ensure safety and hydration while enjoying our favourite season.

Older adults are at a greater risk of being affected by the hot weather and sun during summer months.

There are many physiological changes that affect a senior’s ability to stay cool during the summer months.

As we age, our sweat glands, which help cool the body, become less efficient. Blood vessels carry less blood to the skin and the skin itself goes through natural normal age-related changes that may slow the rate of heat release or the ability to “cool oneself down.”

Normal aging cause older adults to respond slower to heat. leading to higher body temperatures and slower sweat productions. This results in a higher risk of dehydration and sun and/or heat stroke.

Chronic diseases of the lungs, heart and kidneys, and other illnesses such as diabetes, stroke, Parkinson’s and high blood pressure affect the body’s ability to cool down. Medication for depression, motion sickness and high blood pressure also change the body’s ability to regulate temperature and need to be taken into consideration when spending time in the heat.

Our registered nurse, Anne Armstrong, has some great summer tips to help seniors and their family caregivers take advantage of the warm weather and “beat the heat.”

Anne’s Summer Tips for Seniors

• Drink water. Keep hydrated by drinking at least eight, eight-ounce glasses of liquid every day, especially water, juices, milk, club soda and decaffeinated beverages. Other fluid-based treats include watermelon, smoothies and ice cream.

• Limit caffeinated and alcoholic beverages. Both are diuretics which increase seniors’ fluid needs.

• Sensory changes such as smell and taste are more common in seniors. Ensure loved ones are careful with date-label perishable foods, including their summer fruits and vegetables.

• Travel smarter during family summer vacations. Plan accordingly and be sure to receive proper immunizations if travelling overseas and that senior family members pack an emergency kit with important medical history information and telephone numbers.

• Wear sunglasses at all times when outdoors (NOT just at the beach) to help protect eyes from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.

• Stay indoors during extremely hot temperatures.

• Wear a hat and apply sunscreen (minimum 30 SPF) to protect skin from overexposure to the sun’s damaging rays.

• Know the signs of stroke and seek attention for this medical emergency. Signs include a red flushed face, high body temperature (1s06 F+), headache, little or no sweat and rapid pulse.

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Solutions. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday now that she’s back from a summer vacation.


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