Summer Safety and Seniors: Staying Cool in Extreme Heat

As much as Florida is a retirement destination for seniors, summer in Florida can be extremely hot and dangerous to older adults who do not take the proper precautions to stay cool.

Extreme heat causes more weather-related deaths in the United States than hurricanes, flooding and tornadoes combined, and Florida has been known to break several heat records. What’s more, extreme heat events are on the rise and climatologists forecast hotter times ahead, making heat safety a priority for all ages.

Extreme Heat and Heat-Related Illness

Extreme heat is defined as weather that is much hotter and/or humid than average for a particular time and place. Extreme heat is the number one cause of heat-related illness and a serious threat to seniors.

Heat-related illness takes many forms and can include sunburn, heat rash, heat cramps, heat edema, heat syncope, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Knowing how to prevent heat-related illness can save your life, according to the National Institute of Health.

Seniors and Extreme Heat Safety

Adults aged 65 and older are at high risk of heat-related illness, including heat exhaustion and heat stroke. That’s because older adults are more likely to have a chronic medical condition or take prescription medications that affect their ability to regulate body temperature.

Remember, heat stroke is a life-threatening medical emergency! If you encounter anyone experiencing the symptoms of heat stroke, call 911 and take steps to reduce body temperature using whatever methods you can.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the warning signs and symptoms of heat stroke may include:

  • High body temperature (above 103°F or higher)
  • Red, hot and dry skin
  • Rapid or strong pulse
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness

After calling 911 for help, if you suspect heat stroke, it is important to take steps to reduce body temperature using one of the following methods:

  • Call 911 immediately
  • Move to a cooler place (indoors or shade)
  • Immerse in a cool bath or shower
  • Turn victim on side to keep airway open
  • Do NOT give liquids

Staying Safe in Extreme Heat

When it comes to senior safety during extreme heat, there are five key strategies for staying safe:

1. Air Conditioning. If you live in Florida, you must either have air conditioning or have access to it to stay safe in extreme heat. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, air conditioning is the number-one protective action against extreme heat. If your home is not air-conditioned, they advise protecting yourself by finding public facilities that are air-conditioned such as a shopping mall, senior center or library.Due to extreme heat in summer months, many counties in Florida open 24-hour air-conditioned cooling centersfor emergency relief. Even a few hours of cool air conditioning can make a difference to those subjected to high temperatures for prolonged periods. Contact your local health department to locate a local cooling center if you do not have access to air conditioning.

2. Hydration. Most of us know hydration is an important factor in preventing heat-related illness, but what kind of liquids are best for older adults? For example, since we know sweat is important to the body to regulate heat, does it matter what temperature water we drink? As it turns out, despite some claims, consumption of hot water does not provide any thermoregulatory advantages and the temperature of fluids does not make a difference in core body temperature. Medical professionals recommend 6-8 glasses of water daily to stay hydrated. Even some foods can help older adults stay hydrated. Avoid caffeine, sugar and alcohol, as these can make heat-related illness worse. Most importantly, don’t wait until you are thirsty to hydrate, because by the time you realize you are thirsty, it might be too late to ward off heat-related illness.

3. Limited Activity. During extreme heat, it is important that older adults stay in an air-conditioned environment as much as possible and limit outdoor activity. If avoiding the outdoors is not possible, try to schedule outdoor activities early or late in the day during cooler temperatures and pace yourself by walking slowly and resting often. If you must go outside, older adults should take extra precautions to dress properly and stay in the shade away from direct sunlight.

4. Dress Property. When you venture outside in extreme heat, experts recommend wearing loose, lightweight, and light-colored clothing to help keep the body cool. Technically, sunburn is a form of heat illness caused by exposure to UV rays from the sun, and a broad spectrum sunscreen can prevent sunburn. Since sunburn diminishes the body’s ability to cool itself, exposure to the sun can exacerbate other forms of heat-related illness. A wide brimmed hat and umbrella can also help protect skin against sunburn.

5. Cool Off. Most of us know a cold shower can help lower body temperature quickly and ward off heat-related illness, but not everyone has access to a shower during a crisis–that is, when you are outside in the extreme heat showing signs of heat stroke. Heat stroke prognosis is closely related to the amount of time the body temperature remains elevated, so first aid cooling techniques generally recommend cool-water immersion. When water immersion is unavailable, ice water towels combined with ice packs on the head, trunk, and extremities provide effective, but slower whole-body cooling. Some studies show forearm immersion cooling effective at lowering body temperature quickly than other methods.

Want to know more? Get answers to your questions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Frequently Asked Questions About Extreme Heat.

Safety in Senior Living

Not only does Florida pose the threat of extreme heat, but it is also at risk of power outages caused by hurricanes. Seniors must take extra precautions to stay safe during a hurricane.

Independent and assisted living communities like Sonata Senior Living in Florida have hurricane safety protocols in place to protect their residents, offering safe accommodations to older adults who may not be safe at home. In fact, Florida assisted living facilities are required to have backup power generators that will ensure yours or your loved one’s safety during a hurricane or extreme heat event.

Learn the five most important ways senior living keeps seniors safe.

Stay Safe By Staying Cool

It is important for seniors to protect themselves during the hot summer months in Florida. During an extreme heat event, be sure to check on neighbors and loved ones, especially those that live alone. It never hurts to remind someone to stay safe during the hot summer months.

If are unsure if your loved one is safe, a home visit from Sonata
Senior Living can help. To learn more, schedule a visit
to a Sonata Senior Living community near you.


Visit Sonata Senior Living and find out how personalized programming in assisted living promotes independence and well-being.