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Seniors and Hot Weather

Senior citizens need to take special precautions to avoid overheating in hot weather.

The hot, humid weather is hard on everyone, but it is especially hard on senior citizens.  Dr. Amber Barnhart, professor of family and community medicine at SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, explains why hot weather can be harmful to the elderly.

SOUND BITE:  “. . . the main reason is they actually don’t perceive the heat the same as they did when they were younger.  So they may feel that the outside air is not near as hot as it really is and they don’t take the actions they need to to protect themselves.  And then on top of that they don’t perceive thirst as easily as they did when they were younger . . .”

Dr. Barnhart says to stay cool, seniors can apply cold wash cloths on their forehead and neck, stay in the shade, and use fans and air conditioning.  If their home is not air conditioned, they should go to a mall, a cooling center, or a friend or family member’s home that has air conditioning.  She says some health conditions cause even more concern in the hot weather.

SOUND BITE:   “Being hot is particularly hard on lungs and hearts.  So if a senior citizen has any issues with lung disease like asthma or COPD, emphysema, those people are particularly vulnerable to hot weather issues.  Heart conditions are the same.  So anyone who has had a heart attack, has high blood pressure, has problems with their heart should be very aware of the temperature and dehydration issues.”

Dr. Barnhart reminds family members and friends to check on seniors several times a day during heat waves to make sure they are okay.  If someone has symptoms of overheating such as dizziness, a feeling that their heart is racing, or shortness of breath, they should be taken quickly to a primary care physician or hospital emergency department.  

This is Ruth Slottag at SIU School of Medicine in Springfield.