Risk of heat-related health problems increases with age

July 14, 2017, National Institutes of Health
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

With summer here and the temperatures rising, it is important to understand the health risks that excessive heat can bring and know the signs of heat-related illnesses. Older adults and people with chronic medical conditions are particularly susceptible to hyperthermia and other heat-related illnesses. The National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health, offers advice to help combat the dangers of hot weather.

Heat stress, fatigue, heat syncope (sudden dizziness after exercising in the heat), heat cramps and heat exhaustion are all forms of hyperthermia. Hyperthermia is caused by a failure of the body's heat-regulating mechanisms. The risk of hyperthermia can increase with the combination of higher temperatures, underlying general health, and individual lifestyle.

Lifestyle factors that can increase risk include not drinking enough fluids, living in housing without , lack of mobility and access to transportation, overdressing, visiting overcrowded places and not understanding how to respond to conditions. On hot and humid days, especially when an air pollution alert is in effect, , particularly those with , should stay indoors in cooler places. If possible, people without air conditioners or fans should go to places that do have air conditioning, 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.

There are many factors that can increase risk for hyperthermia, including:

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

Heat stroke is a life-threatening form of . It occurs when the body is overwhelmed by heat and unable to control its temperature. Signs and symptoms of include a significant increase in body temperature (generally above 104 degrees Fahrenheit), changes in mental status (like confusion or combativeness), strong rapid pulse, lack of sweating, dry flushed skin, feeling faint, staggering or coma. Emergency medical attention is critical for a person with heat stroke symptoms, especially an older adult.

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

  • Call 911 if you suspect heat stroke.
  • Get the person out of the heat and into a shady, air-conditioned or other cool place. Urge them to lie down.
  • If the person can swallow safely, offer fluids such as water, fruit and vegetable juices, but not alcohol or caffeine.
  • Apply a cold, wet cloth to the wrists, neck, armpits, and groin. These are places where blood passes close to the surface of the skin, and the cold cloths can help cool the blood.
  • Encourage the individual to shower, bathe or sponge off with cool water if it is safe to do so.

States, territories, tribes, and tribal organization may be able to help eligible households pay for home cooling and heating costs. People interested in applying for assistance should contact their local or state social services agency.

Explore further: Risk of heat-related health problems increases with age

More information: The NIA's AgePage on hyperthermia in English or in Spanish contains additional information and resources. It can be viewed online at www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/agepages. Free print copies of the AgePage are available through online ordering or by calling 1-800-222-2225.

Related Stories

Risk of heat-related health problems increases with age

July 12, 2016
Summer is here and it's blazing hot! It is important to be aware of the health risks that higher temperatures can bring. Older adults and people with chronic medical conditions are particularly susceptible to hyperthermia ...

Advice for older people on staying safe in hot weather

July 8, 2015
Summer weather can pose special health risks to older adults and people with chronic medical conditions. It is critically important that adults particularly susceptible to hyperthermia and other heat-related illnesses know ...

Aging experts offer advice about hyperthermia for older adults

July 3, 2014
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 ...

Heat waves hit seniors hardest

August 16, 2016
(HealthDay)—As much of the Northeast struggles with a heat wave that isn't expected to ease until the middle of this week, here are some expert tips on how to spot heat stroke.

Extreme heat in southwest a deadly threat

June 21, 2017
(HealthDay)—With temperatures soaring so high that some planes couldn't take off in Phoenix on Tuesday, the heat wave scorching the Southwest for the next week should be taken very seriously, one emergency doctor warns.

Stay safe as summer temps soar

June 13, 2017
(HealthDay)—As the first major heat wave of the season has much of the eastern United States sizzling, people need to take steps to prevent heat-related illnesses, an emergency doctor says.

Recommended for you

Graphic warning labels linked to reduced sugary drink purchases

June 18, 2018
Warning labels that include photos linking sugary drink consumption with obesity, type 2 diabetes, and tooth decay, may reduce purchases of the drinks, according to a new study by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School ...

Study unmasks scale of patient doctor divide

June 13, 2018
A study has estimated that around three million Britons—or 7.6 % of the country—believe they have experienced a harmful or potentially harmful but preventable problem in primary healthcare.

Lentils significantly reduce blood glucose levels, study reveals

June 13, 2018
Replacing potatoes or rice with pulses can lower your blood glucose levels by more than 20 per cent, according to a first-ever University of Guelph study.

Researcher studies the impact religion has on sleep quality

June 13, 2018
Can a person's religious practices impact their sleep quality? That's the focus of a new study by Christopher Ellison in The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) Department of Sociology and his collaborators.

Mediterranean-style eating with lean, unprocessed red meat improves heart disease risk

June 13, 2018
Adopting a Mediterranean-style eating pattern improves heart health, with or without reducing red meat intake, if the red meat consumed is lean and unprocessed, according to a Purdue University nutrition study.

Sleeping too much or not enough may have bad effects on health

June 12, 2018
Fewer than six and more than ten hours of sleep per day are associated with metabolic syndrome and its individual components, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Public Health that involved 133,608 ...

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.