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June 21, 2023

Older Adults Among Those at Highest Risk for Heat-Related Illness

Older Adults Among Those at Highest Risk for Heat-Related Illness
Extreme Heat Kills More Than 600 People in the U.S. Every Year, Though Serious Health and Safety Effects Are Preventable

The New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA) and the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) are urging older adults, their family members and caretakers to be prepared for high temperatures and excessive heat this summer. NYSOFA and NYSDOH also offer tips and resources for older adults and loved ones to stay safe.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), older adults and those with chronic diseases are at the highest risk for heat-related illness. While serious health and safety effects are preventable in many cases, more than 600 people in the United States are killed by extreme heat every year.

“As summertime weather starts, it is vital that older adults know the dangers and how to be prepared for extreme heat and humidity,” said NYSOFA Director Greg Olsen. “Now is also an important time for family, neighbors, and friends to check in with older adults as a precaution, especially in advance of a forecasted heat wave. This is particularly important for older adults who are most at risk, such as individuals who are low-income, live alone, have chronic conditions or who take certain medications.”

New York State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald said, “High temperatures coupled with high humidity, particularly over an extended length of time, can be a dangerous combination, especially for older adults, the very young, those who work outside, and individuals with preexisting health conditions such as diabetes, obesity or heart disease. I urge all New Yorkers to be aware of the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses, take appropriate precautions such as staying hydrated, and know what to do if you or someone you encounter is experiencing health issues due to extreme heat."

Association on Aging in New York Executive Director Becky Preve said, “Older adults and their families may be unaware of the significant dangers of extreme heat, especially in individuals with chronic health conditions. It is paramount for the health and safety of the community to understand heat-related illness, and to be knowledgeable of programs and services to alleviate and diminish the impact of extreme heat.”

According to the CDC, factors that might increase your risk of developing a heat-related illness include: 

  • High levels of humidity
  • Obesity
  • Fever
  • Dehydration
  • Prescription drug use
  • Heart disease
  • Mental illness
  • Poor circulation
  • Sunburn
  • Alcohol use 

What should I do before a heat wave?

  • Know the symptoms of heat-related illnesses.
  • Make sure that you can open your windows and/or that your air conditioner is working properly.
  • Find out where to cool down – ask local officials about cooling centers in your area. If there are none, identify air-conditioned buildings where you can go (such as libraries, malls, supermarkets, or friends' homes). The New York State Department of Health has information about cooling centers here.
  • Choose someone that you can call for help or who can check on you.
  • Talk to your doctor or pharmacist to learn more about medications that might make you sensitive to the sun or heat.

What can I do during a heat wave?

  • Use air conditioning to cool down or go to an air-conditioned building.
  • If you don't have air conditioning in your home, open windows and shades on the shady side and close them on the sunny side to try to cool it down. 
  • Drink plenty of fluids but avoid alcohol, caffeine and sugary drinks.
  • Beat the heat with cool showers and baths.
  • Take regular breaks from physical activity.
  • Avoid strenuous activity during the hottest part of the day (between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.).
  • Wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing to help keep cool.
  • Stay out of the sun as much as possible.
  • Wear sunscreen and a ventilated hat (e.g., straw or mesh) when in the sun, even if it is cloudy.
  • Never leave children, pets or those with special needs in a parked car, even briefly. Temperatures in the car can become dangerous within a few minutes.
  • Check on your neighbors, family and friends, especially those who are older or have special needs.

Places to Get Cool

New York State pools and beaches across the New York State Park system are available for individuals to cool off during hot days this summer. View the full list of statewide swimming lakes, ocean beaches and pools. Call ahead to confirm hours.

Additionally, the New York State Department of Health collects information about seasonal cooling centers from local health departments and emergency management offices. For more information and to find a Cooling Center near you, go here.

For further information on how to stay safe during periods of excessive heat, please visit the New York State Department of Health website or the CDC website.

Lastly, for information on long term care services and supports for older adults and caregivers, please visit NY Connects or call 1-800-342-9871.

Contact Press Office

Contact us by phone:

Press Office 518.549.8983

Contact us by email:

Mailing Address:

Roger Noyes
NYSOFA Public Information Officer
New York State Office for the Aging
2 Empire State Plaza
Albany, NY 12233