Summer Safety Tips for Seniors

It’s starting to get hot out there, and as much as we joke about frying an egg on the sidewalk, summertime can actually be dangerous for seniors. According to the CDC, there are an average of 67,512 visits to the emergency room for heat-related conditions, and the majority of those are elderly adults.

As we age, our bodies become less efficient at temperature regulation, primarily because we sweat less, which is the body’s number one way to cool off. So here are some precautions seniors and their caregivers and loved ones can take to stay safe in the summer heat. We’ll also go over the symptoms of different heat-related illnesses and how they should be treated.

Make sure to stay hydrated

Dehydration is especially common among seniors, so drink plenty of water throughout the day. Aim for a minimum of eight glasses each day, and avoid beverages with caffeine, alcohol, or excessive sugar as much as possible. Both alcohol and caffeine are diuretics, meaning that they will cause your body to lose water, bringing on dehydration quickly.

Spend the middle of the day indoors

There’s no need to stay cooped up inside for the entire summer, but seniors should avoid the outdoors during the hottest part of the day — typically around 10:00am to 4:00pm. So plan to do any outdoor activities in the morning or evening, when the temperature is a little cooler. When you are outside, stay out of direct sunlight, drink a generous amount of water, and take frequent breaks if you are doing any sort of physical activity.

Use fans and air conditioning as much as possible

Central air conditioning is optimal to help beat the heat, but not everyone has an air-conditioned home. If you live in an extremely hot, humid area, even a window unit in a single room can be a lifesaver, and there are federal and local programs available to help low or fixed-income seniors cover the cost of air-conditioning units.

In milder climates, both ceiling and box fans can be used to help circulate the air and keep the in-home temperature down. And on particularly sweltering days, it’s a good idea to spend the hottest part of the day at a library, shopping mall, religious center, or another air-conditioned location.

Dress for the heat

Lightweight, loose-fitting clothing is the best option for hot weather, and lighter colors help reflect heat away from the body. If you’re spending time outdoors, a wide-brimmed hat will also keep the sun off of your face and neck — just make sure it’s made of a breathable material that won’t trap heat.

Protect your eyes and skin

In addition to heat protection, you should also safeguard against harmful UVA and UVB rays that can cause sunburns, damage your skin and eyes, and increase your risk of skin cancer. Wear UV-blocking sunglasses while outdoors, and apply at least an SPF 30 sunscreen to all exposed skin. While you’re at it, you may also want to spray on some bug repellent to protect from insect bites, which can also cause complications for seniors.

Exercise safely

Exercise is important for health and mental and physical well-being, but make sure you work out safely in the heat. If possible, get your exercise in at an air-conditioned gym, or even better — a swimming pool. Local senior centers often have free fitness classes in air-conditioned environments as well.

Check in with friends and family members regularly

Heat-related illnesses can come on fast and leave you extremely disoriented or incapacitated, so stay in regular contact with family members and friends. You can even schedule a daily check-in via a simple text message or phone call with a trusted loved one. If they don’t hear from you when expected, they’ll know something might be wrong and that you may need help.

Heat-related illnesses you should watch out for
Illnesses brought on by the heat can be life-threatening, so keep an eye out for any of these signs or symptoms. Remember, it’s better to get medical help sooner rather than later, so don’t hesitate to call a healthcare provider or 911 if you have any doubts.


Dehydration is caused by insufficient water in the body, and the symptoms include:

  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

If the individual is awake and coherent, get them to a cooler location right away and provide them with plenty of water or beverages containing electrolytes. However, if the symptoms do not resolve, they lose consciousness at any point, or they have any underlying heart or blood pressure conditions, seek emergency medical assistance immediately.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is brought on by a combination of excessive heat exposure and dehydration. The symptoms include:

  • Heavy sweating or no sweating
  • Muscle cramps
  • Tiredness or weakness
  • Pale, cold, or clammy skin
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fast and weak pulse
  • Fainting or loss of consciousness
  • Moderately high body temperature

Immediately move the person to a cool, shady place and give them plenty of water or electrolyte drinks. If they have any underlying blood pressure or heart problems, or if they don’t feel better after fluids, call 911 right away.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke occurs when your body temperature reaches an extremely high, dangerous level, and the primary symptoms are:

  • Extremely high body temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher
  • Red, hot, and dry skin
  • A fast pulse
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Confusion or lethargy
  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

If heat stroke is suspected, call 911 immediately. Keep the individual as cool as possible while waiting for emergency assistance, and provide water or electrolyte drinks if they are conscious and able to swallow.

In summary

High summertime temperatures and humidity can be dangerous for older adults, but there are precautions seniors can take to lower their risk for heat-related illnesses and complications. However, if dehydration, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke are suspected, it’s vital that you address it immediately and get emergency medical help if needed.

If your elderly family member or loved one could use a little extra help staying safe and healthy this summer, Right Hand Senior Care offers affordable, flexible in-home care services designed to fit your family’s needs.

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