The Impact of Extreme Heat on Older People

The summer of 2023 is turning out to be brutally hot worldwide. This article focuses on older people. It is important to remember that the heat also affects younger people, which will be explored in the following articles.

The following information is based on the NIH: National Institute on Aging.

Individuals’ ability to regulate body temperature and adapt to extreme weather diminishes as they age. This essay focuses on the specific effects of heat on the part of the population that is older. It also highlights their unique vulnerabilities and health concerns during hot weather.

Effects of Heat on Older People:

  • Older people are more prone to heat stress and illnesses due to age-related physiological changes. Their bodies have a reduced ability to cool down efficiently, making them more susceptible to heat exhaustion and heatstroke. If not addressed promptly, these conditions can lead to symptoms like high body temperature, confusion, dizziness, and even loss of consciousness.
  • Older adults are at higher risk of dehydration during hot weather. They may have a decreased sensation of thirst or difficulty accessing fluids, leading to inadequate fluid intake. Dehydration can result in various health complications, including urinary tract infections, kidney problems, and worsening medical conditions.
  • Hot weather stresses the cardiovascular system, and older people, particularly those with pre-existing heart conditions, are more susceptible to its effects. High temperatures can increase heart rate, blood pressure, and the risk of heart-related events such as heart attacks or strokes.
  • Many older adults take multiple medications, some of which can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate temperature. Certain medications, such as diuretics or beta-blockers, can impair sweating or affect blood flow, making it harder for the body to cool down effectively.
  • People aging and with respiratory conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), may experience worsened symptoms during hot weather. High temperatures and humidity can make breathing more difficult and trigger respiratory distress, potentially leading to hospitalizations or exacerbations of their condition.
  • Hot weather can increase social isolation among the elderly population. Older adults may be more reluctant to leave their homes or participate in outdoor activities due to concerns about extreme heat. This isolation can lead to increased loneliness, depression, and decreased mental well-being.
  • Certain medications, such as insulin or some antibiotics, require specific temperature storage conditions. Extreme heat can compromise the efficacy and safety of these medications if not stored properly. Moreover, power outages during heat waves can further disrupt the storage and administration of essential medications for older people.

Older people can have a challenging time dealing with heat and humidity. The temperature inside or outside does not have to be high to put them at risk for a heat-related illness.

Headache, confusion, dizziness, or nausea could indicate a heat-related illness. Go to the doctor or an emergency room to determine if you need treatment.

To keep heat-related illnesses from becoming a dangerous heat stroke, remember to:

  • Get out of the sun and into a cool, ideally air-conditioned place.
  • Drink fluids, but avoid alcohol and caffeine.
  • Shower, bathe, or sponge off with cool water.
  • Lie down and rest.

Homelessness is of special importance for older people who are homeless. 

Extreme heat can have devastating effects on older people who are homeless. The lack of access to cool and safe shelter can lead to dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. These conditions can be life-threatening for people who are already vulnerable due to age and lack of resources. Additionally, extreme heat can exacerbate heart disease and respiratory problems. Steps must be taken to provide safe and cool shelter for homeless older people during periods of extreme heat. Many communities nationwide provide water, cooling centers, and outreach programs to connect individuals with resources and support.

However, we as a nation must provide more safety and shelter for all ages of people who are homeless.

As an older person, I can report the importance of taking these precautions.

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