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Hot Weather Poses Risks to the Elderly

11 Jun 2024

Hot weather can challenge the body’s ability to regulate its temperature, especially for older persons who may struggle to adapt to sudden temperature changes compared to others. In addition, older persons are more susceptible to chronic conditions that can affect the body’s responses to temperature, as well as medications that can alter the body’s ability to control temperature or sweating.  


Dr. Qamar Manzalji, family medicine consultant at Mesaimeer Health Center, highlights that heatwaves are a common phenomenon during summer, resulting in elevated temperatures. These hot conditions can affect health and potentially lead to serious illnesses like heat exhaustion, heatstroke, sunstroke and heat stress.


As summer approaches with its high temperatures, older persons should follow certain recommendations to protect themselves from heat and sunstroke, enabling them to relish summer safely and comfortably without experiencing the risks of excessive heat. These recommendations include staying hydrated by consuming ample water and fluids such as fresh juices and sport drinks to stimulate sweating and combat heat.


Many fruits and vegetables can contribute to sustaining the body’s nutritional needs and keep it hydrated, whether consumed as a snack or as a side dish with meals. Examples of watery fruits and vegetables include watermelon, strawberry, grapefruit, pineapple, cucumber, lettuce and celery.


It’s important to steer clear of beverages containing high caffeine, as they result in increased fluid loss. Older persons should not wait to feel thirsty because thirst sensation tends to diminish with age, potentially leading to fluid deficit and dehydration without realizing it. Hence, maintaining consistent water intake is crucial, even when not feeling thirsty.  


“Seeking Shades”

Dr. Qamar emphasizes the significance of seeking shaded areas as possible and avoiding direct sun exposure during the peak hours when the heat is most intense. It’s advisable for older persons to rest during midday hours and carry out their activities, such as walking, in the early evening hours as engaging in any physical activity during that time requires muscle exertion which could further increase the body heat.


“Wearing Appropriate Clothing”

Choosing clothing carefully when going outdoor is crucial. This seemingly insignificant decision can make a big difference. By opting for appropriate clothing and accessories like umbrellas, one can prevent themselves from sunburn and heat exhaustion by keeping a cool body temperature. It’s advisable to opt for clothes made of lightweight fabrics such as cotton and linen whenever possible as they allow body ventilation and sweat absorption, making older persons comfortable on hot days. It’s also advisable to avoid tight-fitting garments and instead opt for loose-fitting ones that allow airflow around the body, aiding in cooling. 


“Hats and Sunglasses”

Wearing a wide-brimmed hat to shield the face and head from direct sunlight, along with wearing sunglasses to protect the eyes from harmful UV rays are essential during hot and intense sunlight days. Older persons are recommended to take frequent cool showers a day and apply cold compresses around their necks to combat heat. Pouring cold water on the feet can also help cool the body effectively, but it should be done slowly and not all at once.  


"Avoiding Strenuous Activities"

Older persons are encouraged to wake up early to engage in outdoor activities like shopping or essential errands when the air is fresher and cooler, making it easier to go out and move around. It's important for them to take some rest during midday hours when temperatures are particularly high. They can opt to stay indoors in cool, airconditioned areas, unwind, read, or watch TV.


"Physical Activity in the Evening"

After temperatures drop in the evening, older persons can engage in physical activities such as outdoor walks. This allows them to partake in physical activity without the risk of being exposed to extreme heat. The ideal time for outdoor activities is typically around 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m. when temperatures are cooler and humidity or dewdrops is high. It's best to unwind and avoid outdoor exercise, strenuous household chores and vigorous activities during these times.


Recommended methods to cope with heat at home include closing windows and curtains during the daytime, taking cold showers or baths, sleeping in a cool room with light-weight bedding, and turning off artificial lighting and electronics. It’s advisable to have a back-up plan: If you're concerned about heat or humidity, it’s best to stay home. Instead, exercise in a gym, walk inside a shopping mall, or climb stairs in an air-conditioned building. Some medical conditions or physical activities can increase the chances of heat-related illnesses. If you intend to exercise in hot weather, consult your doctor for precautions to prevent any health issues. By taking some basic precautions, heat-related illnesses can largely be prevented. It's easy to maintain your regular exercise routine away from the hot weather by carrying a bottle of water when going outdoor.


Older persons should always be ready to hydrate at any time during the day, therefore it's advisable to carry a water bottle with them when leaving home to maintain proper hydration and prevent dehydration. It's important to consume water regularly, even if there is no sensation of thirst. Setting regular reminders to drink water ensures adequate hydration and mitigates the risk of dehydration.


“Applying Sunscreen”

Older persons should regularly apply sunscreen to maintain their skin health and protect against sun damage, including premature aging and increased risk of skin cancer. Dehydration in older persons is often the underlying factor behind various heat-related health problems as it depletes essential salts and minerals from the body, leading to dizziness, fatigue, headaches, and other health issues. Severe or long-term dehydration may necessitate hospitalization. If experiencing symptoms like dizziness, muscle cramps, swelling in the ankles and feet, nausea, weakness, or rapid heartbeat, it’s advisable to seek medical attention.