Office for the Aging


Beat the Heat, Part 1: Keeping Cool at Home

Note: This article is the first of three NYSOFA will feature on "beating the heat" this June, July, and August.

June 21 is the official first day of summer 2014. The advent of the new season means New Yorkers of all ages will be dealing with heat-related issues. However, older adults, individuals with chronic conditions, and other vulnerable populations are more susceptible to heat related problems and need to be aware how to prevent heat related problems as well as identify when a problem may be due to warm temperatures.

According to the United States Department of Health and Humans Services' National Institutes of Health (NIH), hyperthermia is one of the greatest heat-related dangers faced by older adults as temperatures rise. Hyperthermia is elevated body temperature due to failed thermoregulation that occurs when a body produces or absorbs more heat than it dissipates. Extreme temperature elevation then becomes a medical emergency requiring immediate treatment to prevent disability or death. The most common causes include heat stroke and adverse reactions to drugs.

Hypothermia can include heat stroke, heat fatigue, heat syncope (sudden dizziness after exercising in the heat), heat cramps and heat exhaustion. The risk for hyperthermia is a combination of the outside temperature along with the general health and lifestyle of the individual.

Staying hydrated is very important. Drinking plenty of water should always be a high priority during hot weather.

Lifestyle factors can also increase risk, including extremely hot living quarters, lack of transportation, overdressing, visiting overcrowded places and not understanding how to respond to weather conditions. Older people, particularly those at special risk, should stay indoors on particularly hot and humid days, especially when there is an air pollution alert in effect. People without fans or air conditioners should go to places such as shopping malls, movie theaters, libraries or cooling centers which are often provided by government agencies, religious groups, and social service organizations in many communities.

Heat stroke is an advanced form of hyperthermia that occurs when the body is overwhelmed by heat and unable to control its temperature.

Here are some important tips for keeping you, and your home, cool this summer season:

  1. Install a dehumidifier in your home. A dehumidifier will not do much to cool down the air, but it can take the sticky humidity out of the air which will make it feel more comfortable.
  2. Make your own personal air conditioner by placing a bowl of ice in front of a fan and letting it blow on you. Fill three plastic soda bottles full of water, FREEZE them but in a manner to not damage them (liquid expands on freezing), then place them in a LARGE bowl. Position a fan to blow on them. As the ice in the bottles melt, the air cools around them. The fan will blow that air at you. The water in the bottles can be frozen overnight and used again, repeatedly.
  3. Drapes and blinds can also help keep your house from heating up. Any type of window covering that blocks the sun from entering the room is sure to keep the thermostat a few degrees cooler. Special energy saving window treatments are manufactured to keep homes cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.
  4. Switch from incandescent bulbs to Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL's) as 80% - 90% of the energy consumed by incandescent lighting is wasted through heat. CFL's will also save you money in electricity.
  5. During the summer, do what you can to avoid turning on the stove and, if you must turn it on, turn it on in the late evening and (preferably) after you've opened the windows for the night.
  6. Drink lots of water.
  7. Run cold water on the insides of your wrists and splash it on your neck. Take a cold washcloth and rub it on your forehead and under your back hairline.
  8. Light colored, cotton clothing is great for a hot day, where dark clothing will attract the heat to you.
  9. Soak your feet in a tub of cool water. It'll cool off the rest of your body as well. If the temperature is very hot, just relax and hang around for the day if you're able.
  10. If you have long hair, pull it up! Keep hair off of your neck by wearing a ponytail or a bun.
  11. Set your fan in your window facing out to pull the hot air out of the house and push it outside.

Check back here for July's article on avoiding dehydration and read this NIH article(External Link) to learn more about how to stay cool in the summer.

Did You Know?
You can be a good neighbor by checking in on older residents in your neighborhood during heat waves. Sometimes it can be a matter of life or death! As stated earlier in this article, according to NIH, older adults who do not have air conditioning are at greater risk of hypothermia than the general population.

There is help available. Contact your county office for the aging for a list of cooling centers.