Office for the Aging


Summer: Older New Yorkers More Susceptible to Heat-Related Illnesses

The first day of summer was Thursday, June 21. Summer means New Yorkers of all ages will be dealing with the heat, and the warmer days can create dangerous conditions. Keeping cool is important.

Older adults, individuals with chronic conditions, and other vulnerable populations are more susceptible to heat-related issues and need to know how to prevent 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, 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 medications.

Hyperthermia 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 extreme 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.

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:

  • Install a dehumidifier in your home. A dehumidifier will not do much to cool the air, but it can take the sticky humidity out of the air, which will make it feel more comfortable.
  • 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 refrozen and used repeatedly.
  • 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 will 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.
  • Switch from incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), as 80% to 90% of the energy consumed by incandescent lighting is wasted through heat. CFLs will also save you money in electricity.
  • 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.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • 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.
  • Light colored, cotton clothing is great for a hot day, whereas dark clothing will attract the heat.
  • 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 for the day if you're able.
  • If you have long hair, pull it up! Keep hair off of your neck by wearing a ponytail or a bun.
  • Set your fan in your window facing out to pull the hot air out of the house and push it outside.

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 hyperthermia than the general population.