Hot, Hot, Hot

By Robert F. Bornstein, PhD and Mary A. Languirand, PhD

With summer nigh upon us-Memorial Day is just two weeks away-we thought it a good idea to talk about the heat. Weather conditions that are minor annoyances when you're 20 can create significant health risks when you're 60 or 70. Circulation problems increase as we age, and our ability to regulate internal temperature diminishes, so exposure to weather extremes requires greater planning and preparation. A few tips:

Wear protective clothing (along with sunblock) when you work outside during the summer months. Try to work outdoors in early morning or late afternoon/early evening if possible. Take frequent breaks-more breaks than you used to. Drink plenty of fluids before you go outdoors, and continue replenishing while you're out there (drink 8 ounces of water every 30 minutes….more if you're in direct sunlight or doing something strenuous). Water is the beverage of choice here, or sports drinks (which help retain proper chemical balance), but avoid caffeine or alcohol: Both tend to dehydrate rather than hydrate.

Most important: No matter what sorts of precautions you've taken, if you begin to feel ill come inside-it's your body's way of telling you you're overheating. And know the early signs of dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke. Here they are:

Dehydration: When you become overheated, your body will try to lower its temperature by perspiring. As sweat evaporates it cools you, but too much sweating causes the balance of fluids, salts, and nutrients in your blood to change. Susceptibility to dehydration increases for those on low sodium diets and those taking certain medications. Key warning signs include:

  • Dry mouth (and sometimes dry eyes as well)
  • Increased thirst
  • Excessive sweating
  • Decreased urination
  • Dizziness upon standing

Heat exhaustion is more serious than dehydration, and requires immediate retreat to a cooler environment. Remove unnecessary clothing and drink plenty of fluids. A cool shower or bath will help as well. Key warning signs of heat exhaustion include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Dizziness and/or nausea (sometimes fainting)
  • Cool, moist skin in spite of exposure to heat

Heatstroke is a genuine medical emergency-your body has now lost the capacity to regulate temperature altogether. Do not try to treat heatstroke at home. Instead dial 9-1-1, and follow the operator's directions while you wait for the ambulance to arrive. Key warning signs of heatstroke include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Confusion, severe restlessness
  • Heavy sweating-or no sweating at all
  • Hot, red, dry skin
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea

There's no doubt about it: As we age our physical health and emotional well-being are increasingly impacted by the weather. You cannot eliminate weather-related issues, of course, but it's wise to develop a game plan for the most likely problems, whatever they may be.


Robert Bornstein and Mary Languirand are the authors of When Someone You Love Needs Nursing Home, Assisted Living, or In Home Care, published by Newmarket Press. The second edition, revised and updated, was recently released. Here's the link: