Office for the Aging

 

Keeping Cool in the Summer: Older New Yorkers More Susceptible to Heat-Related Illness

As summer weather sets in, the dangers of high temperatures can be more of a threat to older adults, people with certain chronic conditions, and other vulnerable populations, as these groups are particularly susceptible to heat-related illness. At-risk individuals and their loved ones need to know how to recognize and prevent health problems caused by extreme heat.

Hyperthermia, or overheating when the body’s heat regulation mechanisms fail, presents a serious risk to older adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heat causes more than 600 preventable deaths each year in the United States. Hyperthermia can lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Since hyperthermia progresses through worsening stages, it is critical to act immediately. Symptoms include elevated temperature, headaches, muscle cramps, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, and loss of consciousness. If you or a loved one experience these symptoms, seek urgent medical care.

Older adults and their loved ones should also take stepsto prevent hyperthermia before it occurs. Here are some tips for keeping yourself and your home cool this summer:

  • Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water, and make sure you drink before you get thirsty to avoid dehydration. If your doctor limits the amount you drink or if you take water pills, ask how much you should drink during hot weather.
  • Avoid cooking with your oven or stove, especially during the day. The late evening is the best time to use these appliances if it is absolutely necessary.
  • Take cool showers or baths to cool down.
  • Make sure to rest and take it easy during the day—do not engage in any strenuous activity when it is hot outside.
  • Check on neighbors regularly and have somebody do the same for you.
  • Use fans and air conditioners if you have them to regulate the temperature of your home.
  • Use or install a dehumidifier to make your home less humid and more comfortable.
  • Switch from incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) for a cooler home and a smaller electricity bill.
  • Close your windows and use blinds or curtains during the day to keep the heat and sun out of your home. At night, open your windows to let cool air in if you can.
  • It is important to stay inside in a cool location during the heat. However, if you have to go outside, make sure to put on sunscreen and wear lightweight clothing.

New York State offers a variety of resources to help older New Yorkers and their families stay cool during the summer.

If you need help cooling your home, you may qualify to receive a Cooling Assistance benefit under the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP). Eligible New Yorkers can receive a fan or air conditioner for their home. Cooling assistance will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis through August 31 or until funding runs out. For more information and assistance, find your local HEAP contacts or call the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance at 1-800-342-3009.

Most counties also run cooling centers during hot weather, providing New Yorkers with places to go in their community to cool down if their homes are too hot. Find a cooling center in your community with the New York State Department of Health’s map of cooling centers. You can also contact your local office for the aging or call NY Connects at 1-800-342-9871 for more information.

New York’s state parks have swimming locations that are another resource for staying cool during hot weather. A list of swimming locations is available here. Additional swimming opportunities are available at many Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) campgrounds in the Adirondack and Catskill parks. If you decide to take advantage of these opportunities, make sure to stay safe by talking to your doctor before starting a new form of exercise and by swimming in marked areas.