Surviving Summer Heat: The Difference Between Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke for Seniors


By HomeWell Care Services

July 6, 2023

Surviving Summer Heat: The Difference Between Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke for Seniors
Surviving Summer Heat: The Difference Between Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke for Seniors

For millions of seniors, spending long periods outside during the hot summer months can pose serious health risks, especially due to heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke. As temperatures start rising, it’s crucial for families to understand the distinction and associated risks between these two potentially dangerous conditions for their aging loved ones. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that a substantial population of seniors is affected by heat-related illnesses each year,  many of which cases could have been prevented through proactive measures. In this blog, we will dive into the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke, unraveling their distinctive characteristics, symptoms, and repercussions to help you and your loved ones stay safe during the hot summer months.

What is Heat Exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion is a medical condition that occurs when the body loses too much fluid and salt through sweating. This can happen when you’re exposed to hot weather for too long or exercising strenuously in hot weather.

The symptoms of heat exhaustion can include:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Pale, clammy skin
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Muscle cramps
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue

If you experience any of these warning signs, taking immediate steps to cool down and rehydrate is crucial. Relocate to a cool environment, consume plenty of fluids, and apply cool, damp clothes to your skin. If your symptoms don’t improve after a few hours, or if you start to feel worse, seek medical attention.

What is Heat Stroke?

Heat stroke is a more serious condition than heat exhaustion. It occurs when the body’s temperature rises to dangerously high levels. Heat stroke can be life-threatening, and it’s important to seek medical attention immediately if you think you or a loved one may be experiencing it.

The symptoms of heat stroke can include:

  • A high body temperature of above 104 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Hot, dry skin
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness

If you see someone who is experiencing heat stroke, it’s important to act quickly. Call 911 immediately. While you’re waiting for help to arrive, move the person to a cool place and remove any excess clothing. Apply cool, wet clothes to the skin. If the person is conscious, give them sips of cool water.

What is the Difference Between Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion occurs when the body loses too much fluid and salt through sweating, causing the body’s temperatures to rise slightly but usually not above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Conversely, heat stroke is a life-threatening emergency in which the body cannot cool itself, causing body temperatures to rise to dangerously high levels of 104 degrees Fahrenheit or greater.

The main difference between heat stroke and heat exhaustion is the severity of the condition. With heat exhaustion, symptoms can subside by rehydrating and moving toward a cooler environment. However, heat stroke requires immediate medical attention, as extremely high body temperatures can cause serious damage to the brain and other organs and can be fatal if not treated.

Other Factors That Increase the Risk of Heat-Related Illnesses

In addition to age, several other factors can increase the risk of heat-related illnesses, including:

Medications: Some medications can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate temperature.

Chronic health conditions: Seniors with chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, are more likely to develop heat-related illnesses.

Dehydration: Dehydration can make it more difficult for the body to regulate its temperature.

Lack of physical activity: Seniors who are not physically active are more likely to develop heat-related illnesses.

Obesity: Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of heat-related illnesses.

Alcohol use: Alcohol can impair the body’s ability to regulate temperature.

Tips to Stay Safe in Hot Weather

Before heading outside to soak up the sun, it’s important to prioritize these tips to ensure seniors’ safety:

Stay Hydrated
Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Opt for water as your primary choice, but you can also replenish electrolytes with sports drinks or natural juices. Keep a water bottle with you and take regular sips to stay hydrated.

Plan Activities Wisely
Avoid engaging in strenuous activities during the hottest parts of the day. Instead, schedule your outdoor activities for cooler periods, such as early morning or evening. To stay active and safe, consider exploring indoor exercise options or water-based activities like swimming.

Dress for Comfort
Choose loose-fitting, light-colored clothing that allows air circulation and aids in body cooling. Breathable fabrics such as cotton or linen can help you stay cool and comfortable. Don’t forget to wear a wide-brimmed hat and UV-protective sunglasses to shield yourself from the sun.

Seek Shade and Protect Yourself
Stay in shaded areas to reduce direct exposure to the sun’s heat. Use umbrellas or canopies or seek natural shade from trees or buildings whenever possible. If you need to be in the sun, wear lightweight, long-sleeved clothing and apply sunscreen with a high SPF. Don’t forget to also protect your eyes with sunglasses that provide UV protection.

Embrace Refreshing Cool-downs
Take cool showers or baths to lower your body temperature and find immediate relief from the heat. You can treat yourself to multiple refreshing showers or baths throughout the day, especially if you’re going outside for multiple trips or different extended periods. If you’re unable to do so, use a damp cloth or towel to cool your face, neck, and wrists.

Create a Cool Indoor Environment
Utilize fans or air conditioning to maintain a comfortable temperature indoors. Position fans strategically to circulate air within your home. Keep curtains or blinds closed during the hottest parts of the day to block out direct sunlight.

Look Out for Others
Extend a helping hand by checking on elderly neighbors and loved ones with chronic health conditions. Regularly visit or call them to ensure they have ample fluids, are staying cool, and don’t require any assistance. Offer suggestions on how they can follow these tips and help them find cooler places to spend their time if necessary.

HomeWell Care Services Offers Peace of Mind

Serious heat-related illnesses can be prevented with proper care. At HomeWell Care Services, we understand the importance of keeping seniors safe and comfortable during the hot summer months. Our dedicated caregivers are trained to monitor hydration levels closely, create a cool environment, and take immediate action if any signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke arise. This summer, ensure your loved one’s safety by scheduling a free consultation today.

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