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Too Many Seniors Fail to Heed Warning of Exposure to Hot Summer Weather

National Institute on Aging provides advice about hyperthermia that may save your life or someone you care for – elderly men the most in danger of death

July 3, 2014 – Senior citizens, especially those with chronic medical conditions, should stay indoors, preferably with air conditioning, or at least a fan, on hot and humid summer days, warns the National Institute on Aging (NIA), which suggests specific actions seniors can take to avoid deadly hyperthermia. About 1,500 in the U.S. can be expected to die from heat-related problems this summer – mostly senior men.

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 hyperthermia.


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Seniors and even younger people can be at increased risk for these conditions, depending on the combination of outside temperature, their general health and individual lifestyle.

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 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.

The highest yearly total of hypothermia-related deaths (1,536) was in 2010 and the lowest (1,058) in 2006. Approximately 67% of hypothermia-related deaths were among males.

The risk for hyperthermia may increase from:

   • Age-related changes to the skin such as poor blood circulation 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 blood pressure 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.

Number of Hypothermia-Related Deaths, by Sex

 — National Vital Statistics System, United States, 1999–2011 - January 4, 2013, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The figure above shows the number of hypothermia-related deaths, by sex, in the United States during 1999-2011. From 1999 to 2011, a total of 16,911 deaths in the United States, an average of 1,301 per year, were associated with exposure to excessive natural cold. The highest yearly total of hypothermia-related deaths (1,536) was in 2010 and the lowest (1,058) in 2006. Approximately 67% of hypothermia-related deaths were among males.


Heat Stroke is a Killer

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 heat and into a shady, air-conditioned or other cool place. Urge the person to lie down.

   • If you suspect heat stroke, 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.

For a free copy of the NIA’s AgePage on hyperthermia: click English or in Spanish, or contact the NIA Information Center at 1-800-222-2225.

The NIA leads the federal effort supporting and conducting research on aging and the medical, social, and behavioral issues of older people. The Institute’s broad scientific program seeks to understand the nature of aging and to extend the healthy, active years of life. For more information on research, health and aging, 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

>> American Red Cross Tips to Beat the Heat


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