Urgent Advice for Senior Citizens on Resisting Heat-Related Illnesses
National Institutes of Health says risk of problems from high summer temperature increases with age
Aug. 4, 2011 As most of the United States suffers with record-breaking heat, the National Institutes of Health points
out that senior citizens are at greater risk than most, but adds some advice especially for seniors on how to protect their health.
As people age, their bodies lose some ability to adapt to heat. They may have medical conditions that are worsened by
heat. And their medications could reduce their ability to respond to heat.
The National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health, has some advice for helping older
people avoid heat-related illnesses, known collectively as hyperthermia.
Hyperthermia occurs when the body overheats. Conditions involving hyperthermia have different names, including heat
stroke, heat fatigue, heat syncope (lightheadedness or fainting in the heat), heat cramps and heat exhaustion.
Health-related factors that
may increase the risk of hyperthermia include:
Pre-existing diseases such as congestive heart failure, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Decreased ability to move around
Dementia or cognitive impairment
Certain medications that may cause dehydration or that may affect the responses to heat by the heart, blood vessels or sweat glands.
Being substantially overweight
Drinking alcoholic beverages
Age-related changes in the skin, such as decreased functioning of small blood vessels and sweat glands
Lifestyle factors that can also increase the risk of hyperthermia include
hot living quarters,
lack of transportation,
visiting overcrowded places, and
not understanding how to respond to weather conditions.
Older people, particularly those at special risk, should pay attention to any air pollution alert in effect. People
without fans or air conditioners should go to shopping malls, movie theaters, libraries or other places with air conditioning. In addition,
they can visit cooling centers which are often provided by government agencies, religious groups and social service organizations in many
Heat stroke is an advanced form of hyperthermia. It occurs when the body is overwhelmed by heat and unable to control its
In heat stroke, the body temperature is at least 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Someone with heat stroke may have a strong rapid
pulse, lack of sweating, dry flushed skin, faintness, staggering and mental status changes such as confusion, combativeness, disorientation or
even coma. Seek immediate medical attention for a person with any of these symptoms, especially an older adult.
If you suspect that someone is suffering from a heat-related illness:
Move them into an air conditioned or other cool place
Urge them to lie down and rest
Remove or loosen tight-fitting or heavy clothing
Encourage them to drink water or juices if they are able to drink without choking, but avoid alcohol and caffeine
Apply cold water, ice packs or cold wet cloths to the skin.
Get medical assistance as soon as possible.
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. Individuals interested in applying
for assistance should contact their local or state LIHEAP agency.
For more information, click here or
click to brochure.
For a free copy of the NIAs AgePage on hyperthermia in English or in Spanish, contact the NIA Information Center at
1-800-222-2225 or click here, or
for the Spanish-language version.
The NIA leads the federal government effort conducting and supporting research on aging and the health and well-being of
older people. The Institutes broad scientific program seeks to understand the nature of aging and to extend the healthy, active years of
life. For more information on research, aging, and health, go to
About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and
Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting
basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases.
For more information about NIH and its programs, visit
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