Aging experts offer advice about hyperthermia for older adults

July 3, 2014 by Kim Calvin, National Institutes of Health

During the summer, it is important for everyone, especially older adults and people with chronic medical conditions, to be aware of the dangers of hyperthermia. The National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the NIH, has some tips to help mitigate some of the dangers.

Hyperthermia is an abnormally high body temperature caused by a failure of the heat-regulating mechanisms in the body to deal with the heat coming from the environment. Heat stroke, heat syncope (sudden dizziness after prolonged exposure to the heat), heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat fatigue are common forms of . People can be at increased risk for these conditions, depending on the combination of outside temperature, their general health and individual lifestyle.

Older people, particularly those with , should stay indoors, preferably with air conditioning or at least a fan and air circulation, on hot and humid days, especially when an air pollution alert is in effect. Living in housing without air conditioning, not drinking enough fluids, not understanding how to respond to the weather conditions, lack of mobility and access to transportation, overdressing and visiting overcrowded places are all lifestyle factors that can increase the risk for hyperthermia.

People without air conditioners should go to places that do have , such as senior centers, shopping malls, movie theaters and libraries. Cooling centers, which may be set up by local public health agencies, religious groups and social service organizations in many communities, are another option.

The risk for hyperthermia may increase from:

  • Age-related changes to the skin such as and inefficient sweat glands
  • Alcohol use
  • Being substantially overweight or underweight
  • Dehydration
  • Heart, lung and kidney diseases, as well as any illness that causes general weakness or fever
  • High or other health conditions that require changes in diet. For example, people on salt-restricted diets may be at increased risk. However, salt pills should not be used without first consulting a physician.
  • Reduced perspiration,caused by medications such as diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers and certain heart and blood pressure drugs
  • Use of multiple medications. It is important, however, to continue to take prescribed medication and discuss possible problems with a physician.

Heat stroke is a life-threatening form of hyperthermia. It occurs when the body is overwhelmed by heat and is unable to control its temperature. Heat stroke occurs when someone's body temperature increases significantly (above 104 degrees Fahrenheit) and shows symptoms of the following: strong rapid pulse, lack of sweating, dry flushed skin, mental status changes (like combativeness or confusion), staggering, faintness or coma. Seek immediate emergency medical attention for a person with any of these symptoms, especially an older adult.

If you suspect someone is suffering from a heat-related illness:

  • Get the person out of the and into a shady, air-conditioned or other cool place. Urge the person to lie down.
  • If you suspect , call 911.
  • Apply a cold, wet cloth to the wrists, neck, armpits and/or groin. These are places where blood passes close to the surface of the skin, and the cold cloths can help cool the blood.
  • Help the individual to bathe or sponge off with cool water.
  • If the person can swallow safely, offer fluids such as water or fruit and vegetable juices, but avoid alcohol and caffeine.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) within the Administration for Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services helps eligible households pay for home cooling and heating costs. People interested in applying for assistance should contact their local or state LIHEAP agency or go to www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ocs/liheap .

Explore further: Ways to avoid heat stroke

More information: For a free copy of the NIA's AgePage on hyperthermia in English or in Spanish, contact the NIA Information Center at 1-800-222-2225 or go to www.nia.nih.gov/health/publica … -too-hot-your-health or www.nia.nih.gov/espanol/publicaciones/hipertermia (Spanish).

Related Stories

Ways to avoid heat stroke

June 24, 2014
Having some fun in the sun is typically a popular summer activity, but it can also be dangerous.

Heat and humidity conspire for discomfort, danger

July 21, 2011
(AP) -- When it comes to the discomfort and health risks of the current heat wave, it's not just the heat or the humidity - it's both.

Researchers identify brain circuits involved in stress-induced fevers

June 26, 2014
When we feel mentally stressed, we often also feel physiological changes, including a faster heart rate and an increase in body temperature. This increase in body temperature is known as psychological stress-induced hyperthermia, ...

Heat stroke and exercising in the summer

August 23, 2011
Heat-related illness accounts for about 700 deaths a year and is the nation’s No. 1 weather-related killer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The dangers of heat stroke are especially prevalent ...

As heat builds, take steps to protect yourself

June 20, 2012
(HealthDay) -- As the first major heat wave of the summer engulfs the continental United States, health experts are urging people to take special precautions when dealing with scorching temperatures and oppressive humidity. ...

MDMA can be fatal in warm environments

June 4, 2014
A moderate dose of MDMA, commonly known as Ecstasy or Molly, that is typically nonfatal in cool, quiet environments can be lethal in rats exposed to conditions that mimic the hot, crowded, social settings where the drug is ...

Recommended for you

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

Teens likely to crave junk food after watching TV ads

January 15, 2018
Teenagers who watch more than three hours of commercial TV a day are more likely to eat hundreds of extra junk food snacks, according to a report by Cancer Research UK.

Can muesli help against arthritis?

January 15, 2018
It is well known that healthy eating increases a general sense of wellbeing. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now discovered that a fibre-rich diet can have a positive influence ...

Your dishwasher is not as sterile as you think

January 13, 2018
(HealthDay)—Your dishwasher may get those plates spotless, but it is also probably teeming with bacteria and fungus, a new study suggests.

Study reveals what sleep talkers have to say

January 12, 2018
A team of researchers with members from several institutions in France has conducted a study regarding sleep talking and has found that most sleep talking is not only negative in nature, but involves a large amount of swearing. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.