Managing elder health risks in summer temperatures

Terri Waldman

Terri Waldman

The summer heat has arrived. For older adults, warmth might mean more joint comfort, but it can also place them at increased health risk.

Terri Waldman, the director of Tucson Medical Center’s Geropsychiatric Center at Handmaker, said there are a variety of reasons – including diminished blood circulation, age-related illness and lifestyle factors – that make older adults more susceptible to heat-related complications.

  • Dehydration: Older adults who don’t consume enough liquids are more readily overheated and can become easily confused and disoriented. Inadequate hydration can also lead to urinary tract infections, which can cause marked changes in mental status and behavior. “Urinary infections are more than a nuisance – they can have serious consequences,” Waldman said. “Consuming plenty of fluids is an important safeguard.”
  • Medication: Many drugs may lose potency in extreme heat, Waldman said. It’s best not to let medications sit too long in the mailbox during the heat of the day, or to keep them in a locked car. Store medications at room temperature, protected from heat and light to the degree possible. If an older adult is overheated, medications also tend to work less effectively.
  • Nutrition: When the temperatures climb, appetites diminish. Seniors need to make sure they continue to eat sufficient amounts of healthy food. Also, because people with heat exhaustion lose fluids and salts, those on salt-restricted or fluid-restricted diets have to be especially careful to guard against becoming overheated.

Everyone should know the signs of heat exhaustion, Waldman said. Those signs may include dizziness, confusion, fatigue, muscle cramps, muscle spasms, lack of coordination, nausea, headache and clammy skin. Seek medical assistance right away for these symptoms or for an elevated body temperature.

“During hot weather, it’s best to use caution in scheduling physical activities outdoors and you should continue drinking fluids throughout the day, before you feel thirsty,” Waldman said. “And for older adults, it’s always good to have a buddy system established anyway, so someone can check in, particularly if outdoor activities are planned throughout the day.”

If you or an elder loved one is showing signs of agitation, confusion, hallucinations, extreme depression or an inability to cope with stressful situations, please check with your health provider.

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