Beware of hyperthermia: Tips for staying safe in the heat of summer

Summer is a great time to be outdoors in Albany County. Whether you are gardening, visiting a farmers’ market, going to the fair, or are off to the races, it’s also a time to be vigilant about the risks of excessive heat and sun.  While too much heat is unsafe for everyone, the risks increase for anyone who is older or has health problems.

In upstate New York, most of us have heard of “hypothermia” caused by exposure to cold weather. But the risk in hot weather, which we may not be aware of, is “hyperthermia.”

Hyperthermia is caused by a failure of the heat-regulating mechanisms of the body. Hyperthermia includes: heat fatigue, heat syncope — sudden dizziness after prolonged exposure to the heat, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.

While older adults are generally at risk for these conditions, this risk can increase with the combination of higher temperature, individual lifestyle, and general health. Lifestyle factors include not drinking enough fluids, a home without air-conditioning, lack of mobility or access to transportation, overdressing, visiting overcrowded places, and not understanding how to respond to hot weather conditions.

It’s recommended that older individuals, particularly those with chronic medical conditions, stay indoors in cooler spaces on hot and humid days. People without air-conditioning may find relief in air-conditioned spaces like senior centers, shopping malls, movie theaters, and libraries during the hottest hours of the day.

During stretches of hot weather, consider making a daily call or visit to an older relative, friend, or neighbor.

The National Institute on Aging, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, has valuable advice to help all of us avoid the hazards of hot weather. Awareness of factors that increase the risk of hyperthermia may help with prevention. They include:

— Dehydration;

— High blood pressure or other health conditions that require changes in diet. For example, people on salt-restricted diets may be at increased risk. However, salt pills should not be used without first consulting a doctor;

— Heart, lung, and kidney diseases, as well as any illness that causes general weakness or fever;

— Use of multiple medications. Please note that it is important to continue to take prescribed medication and discuss possible problems with a physician;

— Reduced sweating, caused by medications such as diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers, and certain heart and blood pressure drugs;

— Age-related changes to the skin such as poor blood circulation and inefficient sweat glands;

— Being substantially overweight or underweight; and

— Alcohol use.

Heat stroke is a life-threatening form of hyperthermia. It occurs when the body is overwhelmed by heat and unable to control its temperature. Signs and symptoms of heat stroke include a significant increase in body temperature (generally above 104 degrees Fahrenheit), changes in mental status (like confusion), strong rapid pulse, lack of sweating, dry flushed skin, feeling faint, and staggering or coma.

Seek immediate emergency medical attention for a person with heat-stroke symptoms, especially an older adult.

To keep heat-related illnesses from becoming a dangerous heat stroke, you can:

— Get out of the sun and into a cool place;

— Drink fluids, but avoid alcohol or caffeine. Water or juices are recommended;

— Shower, bathe, or sponge off with cool water; and

— Lie down and rest in a cool place and, importantly, get medical assistance if you don’t cool down quickly.

Safety precautions in the heat will help keep our memories of Summer 2015 happy ones. If you would like more information about health and aging from the National Institute on Aging, go to

Community Caregivers Inc. is a not-for-profit organization that provides non-medical services and caregiver support at no charge to residents in Guilderland, Bethlehem, Altamont, New Scotland, Berne, Knox, and the city of Albany through a strong volunteer pool of dedicated individuals with a desire to assist their neighbors. To find out more about our services or volunteering, please visit or call 456-2898.

Editor’s note: Linda Miller is the Outreach and Education Coordinator for community Caregivers.