The news in the summer of 2021 was almost as oppressive as the heat itself. Boston sweated through its hottest June on record. Lytton, British Columbia, reached an unheard-of 121 degrees Fahrenheit as the Pacific Northwest baked under a heat dome. Another dome in August stifled the Mediterranean.

Climate change drives more frequent, more intense, and longer heat waves. It raises nighttime lows, preventing body temperatures from resetting when the sun sinks. Even short of heat waves, the volatility that climate change provokes in day-to-day highs can truncate the lives of older people with certain health conditions.

Is It Harder To Tolerate Heat As You Age?

The casualties following extreme heat events around the world in recent years, reiterate that older people are among those most vulnerable to falling ill and dying when the mercury rises. More than 80 percent of the estimated 12,000 people in the United States who die of heat-related causes annually are over age 60, according to the journalism resource Climate Central. As Earth gets hotter and human populations skew older, heat-related fatalities among older adults are expected to grow.

Studies show that it can be hard for even healthy older adults to tell when it’s too hot or if they’re dehydrated. Cognitive decline exacerbates these problems. Older bodies also hold more heat than younger ones when the temperature climbs. Glands don’t release as much sweat. The heart doesn’t circulate blood as well, so less heat is released from vessels in the skin. Systems from the cardiovascular to the immune struggle to compensate.

Acclimation Matters

Heat tends to cause more deaths at the start of summer than at the end. More deaths occur when heat strikes areas unaccustomed to it.

Finally, age intersects with socioeconomic factors to compound heat vulnerability. Older adults who are poor, who identify as Black or Hispanic, or who live in cities are more likely to become sick or die from excessive heat. Poorer neighborhoods tend to have fewer shade trees and reach a boil faster than wealthier environs. Having air conditioning at home isn’t enough if a patient can’t afford to run it.

The Arizona county that includes Phoenix reported that of those who died indoors of heat-related causes in 2019, 91% had air conditioners, but the units were turned off, turned too low, or broken. Older adults with mobility issues or who lack social networks are less able to access resources such as cooling centers or have people check on them.

Four Ways To Reduce Body Temperature Changes As You Age

  1. Stay hydrated: As we age, our thirst reflex diminishes.  That’s why it is important to drink plenty of liquids, no matter the weather.
  2. Watch the weather: Pay attention to the heat index in the summer.  When the heat index is above a certain number, local health departments will issue warnings for older adults and small children.  It is important to have access to shade.  Know where to go in a heat wave if you don’t have air conditioning, such as a gym, school, church, library, or another resource in your city or community.
  3. Build muscles: You can build muscles at any age.  Use resistance training for your everyday life.  It makes a difference in body temperature regulation.
  4. Dress for success: In warm weather, wear light, cotton clothing.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, we can expect high temperatures to kill nearly 700 people each year in this country alone, most of them over 70 years of age. The vast majority won’t die of heat stroke, heat exhaustion, or dehydration. They will die of heart-related problems, including heart attacks and heart failure.

Cooling Ourselves

The reason is that we cool ourselves largely by pumping more blood to the skin, where the heat it carries can be lost to the environment. During hot weather, the increase in blood flow to the skin is huge, up to 20 times as much as in cooler weather. Even at rest, if we’re very hot, we may be pumping nearly two gallons of blood to our skin every minute.

This creates a strain on the heart that can be a particular problem for older people, as their hearts work harder trying to pump more blood to the skin.  To make matters worse, the blood vessels in older skin don’t dilate as well as the vessels in the skin of younger people. They can’t accommodate the greater flow and can’t return as much blood to the heart.

Older Adults Don’t Pump As Much Blood

Older adults don’t pump as much blood to the skin, but the left ventricle is still trying to contract very forcefully to do that. So, in some older individuals who have heart failure, who had had a heart attack, or who just have a weak left ventricle, all of a sudden, they’re putting much more stress on the heart—sometimes with disastrous results.

Data collected across large samples of the older population show a correlation between age and hot weather and more heat-related illnesses and deaths. Older individuals, regardless of how one classifies ‘old’, are the most rapidly growing portion of the population. Statistics from heat waves and other morbidity-mortality data strongly suggest that older persons are at greater risk of developing life-threatening manifestations of heat stress such as heat stroke.

When the temperature climbs above 80°F, older adults need to be proactive and take precautions.

. Keep in mind the following tips when trying to stay cool.

  • Stay away from direct sun exposure as much as possible. If possible, plan your outdoor activities either early in the morning or when the sun starts to set.
  • Air conditioning is your friend in summer. Spend as much time as possible in air-conditioned spaces. If you don’t have an air conditioner, go somewhere that is air-conditioned. For example, read a book at the library, walk around in indoor malls, watch that new movie at the theater, or meet your friends at the senior center. (Note:  The federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) helps adults 65 and older who have limited incomes cover the cost of air conditioners and utility bills. To reach your state’s LIHEAP program, call 1-866-674-6327.)
  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of cool water, clear juices, and other liquids that don’t contain alcohol or caffeine. Alcohol and caffeine cause you to lose water in your body by making you urinate more.
  • Dress appropriately. Whenever you can, try wearing loose, light-colored clothes. Avoid dark-colored clothes as they may absorb heat. Top it off with a lightweight, broad-brimmed hat and you are dressing like a pro! These simple changes will help you both stay cool and avoid sunburn.
  • Did someone say sunburn? Buy a broad-spectrum sunscreen lotion or spray with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. Apply sunscreen liberally to all exposed skin. Also, bugs are abundant in summer, so spray insect repellent when going outdoors.
  • Cool down! Take tepid (not too cold or too hot) showers, baths, or sponge baths when you’re feeling warm.  Don’t have the time?  Then wet washcloths or towels with cool water and put them on your wrists, ankles, armpits, and neck.

How to Spot and Treat Health Problems Caused by Heat

It’s important to recognize when hot weather is making you sick, and when to get help. Here’s a list of health problems caused by exposure to too much heat:


What it is:   A loss of water in your body. It can be serious if not treated.

Warning signs:   Weakness, headache, muscle cramps, dizziness, confusion, and passing out.

What to do:   Drink plenty of water and, if possible, sports drinks such as Gatorade™, which contain important salts called “electrolytes.” Among other things, electrolytes play a key role in regulating your heartbeat. Your body loses electrolytes when you’re dehydrated. If you don’t feel better, call 911. If you feel better after drinking fluids, but have medical conditions like heart failure or take diuretics (“water pills”), you should also call your healthcare provider for a follow-up.

Heat Stroke

What it is: A very dangerous rise in your body temperature, which may happen gradually over days of heat exposure in older adults. It can be deadly.

Warning signs: A 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; and passing out.

What to do: Call 911 immediately. Move to a cool, shady place and take off or loosen heavy clothes. If possible, douse yourself with cool water, or put cloths soaked with cool water on your wrists, ankles, armpits, and neck to lower your temperature. Try to see if you can safely swallow water or sports drinks while waiting for 911.

Note: If you are caring for someone else who has heat stroke, only give them water or drinks if they are awake and can swallow. Do not try to give fluids by mouth if the person is drowsy, as it could cause choking.

Heat Exhaustion

What it is: A serious health problem caused by too much heat and dehydration. If not treated, it may lead to heat stroke (see above).

Warning signs: Heavy sweating or no sweating, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, paleness, cold or clammy skin, dizziness, headache, nausea or vomiting, fast and weak pulse, fainting. Body temperature is generally between 98.6°F (37°C) and 104°F (40°C).

What to do: Without delay, move to a cool, shady place, and drink plenty of cool fluids, such as water or sports drinks. Call 911 right away if you have high blood pressure or heart problems, or if you don’t feel better quickly after moving to the shade and drinking liquids.

Heat Syncope

What it is: Fainting caused by high temperatures.

Warning signs: Dizziness or fainting.

What to do: Lie down and put your feet up, and drink plenty of water and other cool fluids.


Our goal is to keep you or your loved one healthy, happy, and safe at home. The Promedcare team of management and caregivers understands the importance of providing care within the comfort of one’s own home. Families choose Promedcare for different reasons.

For some, it’s to provide extensive ongoing care for an aging senior. For others, we offer a much-needed break or, respite care – such as a night out with a spouse, vacation, or simply a few hours of quiet time at home – for family members who provide regular care. We offer a wide range of care services customized for each individual client.

Promedcare services include Personal Care Services, Companion Care Services, Dementia / Alzheimer’s Care Services, and Respiratory Solutions.

Contact us today to see how Prodmedcare can help you!