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How Older Adults Can Stay Cool in a Heat Wave

older adult, intergenerational housing

We wait all year for warm, balmy temperatures like these. But when things get a little too warm they can be detrimental to the health of older adults. In fact, it’s not uncommon to hear reports of older adults experiencing severe illness or even death during a heatwave as occurred in July 2018 where 50 heat-related deaths were reported in Southern Quebec.

Why does heat seem to impact older adults more severely than younger folks? The reason, according to Glen Kenny, a professor and research chair in environmental physiology at the University of Ottawa, is that older adults don’t sweat as much as younger people. Sweating is one of the body’s main forms of temperature regulation and when older adults are exposed to temperatures over 44 celsius for more than a few hours at a time, it can take a toll on the body. If the air is humid, that makes things even worse because it slows down time it takes for water to evaporate off of the skin.

In addition, older adults are also less sensitive to feeling thirsty and hot, which allows their bodies to get to dangerously dehydrated without them noticing, Kenny told CBC news. Many are also taking medications that increase dehydration.

Here, four tips for ensuring you stay cool, and healthy when temperatures rise.

  1. Try to stay indoors, preferably in an air-conditioned environment, between 11 am and 3 pm, which is usually the hottest time of the day. Most of the Southern Quebec deaths occurred in non-air conditioned homes.
  2. Close the blinds and shades in your home to keep the sun from warming the rooms.
  3. Stay cool by going for a swim at your local pool or taking cool showers throughout the day.
  4. Stay hydrated by drinking six to eight glasses of water a day and even more if you feel thirsty. Avoid coffee and tea which are diuretics.

If you feel muscle cramps in your limbs or stomach, feel confused, dizzy, nauseated or weak it is advisable that you seek medical attention. For more information about the ways that heat impacts older adults, follow the link to this CBC article.