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Extreme Heat Hits Elderly Harder

Age-linked body changes mean they're much more vulnerable, experts say

SATURDAY, Aug. 11, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- A combination of age-linked factors helps explain why older adults and the elderly are at higher risk on very hot days, experts say.

Due to age-related physical changes, older adults can't cool down as well as younger adults, says the American Geriatric Society's Foundation for Health in Aging. Older people may not feel as hot when temperatures are dangerously high, and they are also less likely to feel thirsty, even when they're almost dehydrated, the experts say.

These and other factors mean that extreme heat can lead to serious health problems and increased risk of death for older adults.

Each year in the United States, about 200 people die of health problems caused by high heat and humidity. Most of the victims are age 50 or older.

The foundation also noted that heart disease, diabetes and certain other diseases that are common in older adults can make it more difficult to cope with high heat and humidity. The same goes for a number of drugs, including water pills, allergy and sinus medications, and medicines for depression and nerve problems.

When the temperature reaches 90 degrees F, family and caregivers should check on older adults, said the foundation, which also offered hot weather safety tips for older adults:

  • Turn on the air conditioner or go to a place that's air conditioned, such as a shopping mall, grocery store, senior center, movie theater, museum, or library. Fans aren't sufficient in extreme hot weather.
  • Don't walk long distances, lift heavy objects, or do other strenuous activities.
  • Drink lots of water and other clear drinks that do not contain alcohol or caffeine. If your urine is light yellow, you're drinking enough water. If it's dark yellow, you need to drink more water.
  • Take cool showers, baths, or sponge baths.
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
  • Stay out of the sun. If you go outside, wear a hat.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about extreme heat.

SOURCE: American Geriatrics Society, news release, August 2007
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