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Staying Cool in Fort Myers: Know the Signs of Heat Exhaustion in Seniors

With endless outdoor recreation opportunities in and around Fort Myers, there is always a reason to go outside and play. But seniors need to take extra care in the Florida heat because they are at higher risk for heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion.

What Is Heat Exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion is a health condition that is caused by overexposure to high temperatures and results in your body overheating. Heat exhaustion is particularly concerning for seniors, seeing as those who are 65 or older are at higher risk of developing the condition because of underlying health conditions or side effects from certain medications.

Common medications that can contribute to the risk of heat exhaustion include those that are used to treat heart and blood pressure issues, such as diuretics, beta blockers, and antihistamines that are used to treat allergies.

How to Avoid Heat Exhaustion

If you are going to be outside for any length of time, follow these tips to stay safe:

Dress for the weather.

Lightweight, loose-fitting clothing will allow your body to cool properly. Overdressing or wearing thick, nonbreathable fabrics can cause overheating.

Stay hydrated.

Drink plenty of fluids, such as water and sports drinks. Avoid alcohol and highly caffeinated drinks because they tend to cause dehydration. 

Protect your skin.

Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. Reapply regularly, especially after swimming. Broad-brimmed sun hats, sunglasses, and umbrellas are also great choices for additional skin protection, but they don’t replace sunscreen!

Avoid the hottest part of the day.

Plan indoor activities for between the hours of noon and 4 p.m. The Florida heat is most intense during this time, so plan outdoor activities for early in the morning or in the evening when possible. If you have to be out in the heat of the day, be sure to drink plenty of fluids and take frequent rests in a shady or air-conditioned location. 

Know your risk factors.

Be aware of how the medicines you take may contribute to your risk of heat exhaustion. If you have suffered a heat-related illness in the past, you are at a higher risk of developing another. Ask your doctor whether any existing health conditions may also increase your sensitivity to heat.

What Are the Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion in Seniors

Symptoms to watch for that may indicate that you or a companion is experiencing heat exhaustion include:

  • Profuse sweating
  • Pale, clammy skin and goosebumps even in the heat
  • Headache
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Confusion 
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Stomach cramps
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

What to Do If You Think You Have Heat Exhaustion

If you suspect you are experiencing symptoms of heat exhaustion, take action quickly to avoid more serious heat-related health issues, such as heatstroke. Get out of the heat immediately, and sit in an air conditioned building or vehicle if you can. If you can’t get inside, find a shady spot.

Loosen or remove any tight-fitting or unnecessary clothing and apply an ice pack or cool compress to your skin. Be sure to drink plenty of nonalcoholic, noncaffeinated beverages to stay hydrated. Sports drinks are best in this case because they hydrate and replace lost salt.

If symptoms persist after 15 minutes, call for emergency medical help.

Fun Indoor Activities to Help Seniors Beat the Heat

Save the beach for sunrise or sunset and make your own daytime fun with an at-home social activity or by visiting one of these Fort Myers favorites. 

Host a viewing party.

Put out the snacks, pour the cold drinks, and binge-watch Netflix with some friends as you cheer for your favorite pastry chef on “The Great British Baking Show” or explore the mysteries of the natural world on “Planet Earth.” 

Go to a museum.

Enjoy a day filled with inspiration and innovation with a visit to the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, the part-time residences of two of America’s most famous inventors. 

Catch lunch and a show.

The Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre is the perfect place to watch a Broadway musical, enjoy a delicious meal, and while away the afternoon in air-conditioned comfort.

Florida summer is heating up, but that’s no reason to skip a trip to Fort Myers Beach.  Follow these sun-smart tips for outdoor fun, and you can safely enjoy the ocean breeze in your hair and the sand between your toes.

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Teresa Keating, RN

About the Author: Teresa Keating, RN

Teresa is a registered nurse with 30 years’ experience working with the senior population in England, Tennessee and Florida. Originally from Weymouth, Dorset, England she has been involved in all areas of healthcare in a post-acute care setting including hospitals, rehabilitation and home health. Her experience includes being a business owner, marketing director and a director of nursing. Teresa is married to Gary for over 20 years and has two children.