Update to an Old Woman's Tears
Final Update on an Old Woman's Tears

Elders Coping with Summer Heat

One of the terrific things about living in the Willamette Valley of northwest Oregon is the summer weather. Generally, the temperature doesn't reach its high point until about 4PM and within an hour or two of that, the sun goes behind the Coast mountain range and you can feel the cooling affect almost immediately.

By the next morning, the temperature is usually in the 50s, maybe low 60s even when, as with the past few days, there has been an early heat wave when it's been in the high 80s and low 90s.

With careful use of closed curtains and open windows at appropriate times of day, I keep the house so comfortable that in five years here I still haven't tested the air conditioner; I have no idea if it works.

Not everyone is as lucky with summer weather as I am and in other climates, air conditioning is a necessary life saver. Thousands of poor people in India died in the past few weeks during a prolonged hot spell in that country.

So today is our annual reminder of how to keep cool (for us northern hemisphere people) when it's too hot out there. There are enough diseases and conditions of age to worry about - let's not make hot weather one of them.

Too hot for old people doesn't need to be as hot as it does for younger people because our body's heating and cooling systems wear down with the passing years.

Our sweat glands are less efficient and so is our blood circulation. Certain diseases and medications, salt-restricted diets for high blood pressure, being overweight or underweight, among other issues, can affect body temperature regulation.

There are two heat-related conditions that are deadly serious and you should know the symptoms:

HEAT EXHAUSTION occurs when the body gets too hot. Symptoms are thirst, weakness, dizziness, profuse sweating, cold and clammy skin, normal or slightly elevated body temperature.

Move yourself or someone experiencing these symptoms to a cool place, drink cool liquids, take a cool bath or shower and rest.

HEAT STROKE is a medical emergency. It can cause brain damage so get thee or the affected person to a hospital immediately. It occurs when body temperature reaches 103 or 104 in a matter of minutes.

Other symptoms include confusion; faintness; strong, rapid pulse; lack of sweating, flushed skin, bizarre behavior and coma. Don't fool around with this. Call 911 immediately.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website has an excellent section on extreme heat including a link from that page to one especially for old people.

Here is a list of suggestions from our 2014 story on keeping cool in summer heat. They are no less useful for being a year old.

Wear light-colored, loose clothing.

Heat waves are not the time to skimp on the electric bill. Turn up the air conditioning when you need it.

If you do not have air conditioning, now is the time – before a heat emergency – to find out the locations of your city's cooling centers. Hundreds of cities use school gyms and other large gathering places to help people cool down during the worst of the day's heat.

You could also go the movies, the mall or visit a friend who has air conditioning during the afternoon.

If you have air conditioning, invite a friend who does not have it to visit you during the hottest hours of the day.

If you must be out and about during a heat wave, do your errands in the early morning. Schedule appointments before the worst heat of the day.

Eat light meals that do not need cooking. High-water-content foods like cantaloupe, watermelon, apples and other fruits are good.

Keep window shades lowered and curtains drawn during the strongest heat of the day.

Some medications for diabetes, high blood pressure and other conditions can inhibit the body's ability to cool itself. If your area is experiencing a prolonged heat wave, perhaps ask your physician if you can forgo or reduce the amount of those medications for the duration.

Have I left out anything? Do you have more suggestions?


I live in Texas and it is really heating up. Since the sun comes up at 6:30 now, I walk very early and swim at noon. Then spend the hot part of the day inside. Unfortunately, we don't cool down at night and do need AC. The price we pay for mild winters.

Take breaks if gardening. Start slowly, drink lots of water.

My friend buys a small kiddie pool, fills it with water, takes breaks I her little pool, with a nice tall drink.

Just don't forget to empty the pool.

Dead skunks don't wear plaid.

That should read "in her little pool."

Ipad is the culprit.

Hydrate! At least once a summer (when venturing outside chilly San Francisco) I allow myself to get too hot and realize I have not had enough water.

Drink fluids! Keep a water bottle in the car. Make sure your car's fluids are all good. It's been around 100 in E Wash and last night was still 80 at 10pm, not much night cooling here.

It has to get over 85 before I get warm enough to call it hot. I'm not fond of air conditioning but I have it when I need it. What bothers me the most is going in and out businesses in warm weather when you go from 85 outside to 70 inside. I'm not one of those persons who always remembers to bring a sweater.

Heat strokes are serious, though. I've seen two people have them.

Dehydration is a serious problem here in dry, hot Arizona. Also the water tastes horrible unless it is filtered and cold.

Getting a bit dizzy/slight headache is an early sign I need water. I carry a stainless steel insulated water bottle EVERYWHERE. These were invented for hikers and bikers, but they work great for everyone, keep the water very cold for 10-15 hours, and don't make the water taste like metal or plastic. REI has them, as do most bike and outdoor stores.

Here in Denver it can get very hot in the summer, although the nights are wonderfully cool. My little house has an almost-black roof and no shade trees, so it heats up very quickly and my A/C works very hard to keep it comfortable during the day. I can't take advantage of the cool nights, unfortunately, because all my windows are on the ground floor and I'm afraid to leave them open at night. Best I can do is close everything up early and make sure the interior temperature doesn't get a headstart on my barely adequate A/C system.

It is hotter than a pepper plant here in Vancouver Washington, never in the 37 plus years we have lived here has the last year been so hot..Our PUD gave rebates because we used so little electric and now the water is being restriced somewhat, we go to cheap movies like $3.00 and $5.00 and stay and enjoy ourselves come home the windows are closed, the DYSON fans two given by our daughter to us go on and we are oky doky..New windows and insulation are on the way for sure..We hydrate with bottles of cool water from the fridge I clean and make up each morning early, we sip it thru the day, never go out past 10 am and when we go to the movies it is in the afternoon on Tuesdays and Wednesdays..Hoping the vintners and farmers in eastern Washington and the people in seattle get a break on the heat as it affects the economy enormously..No ski seasan a bust and tiny towns that rely upon toruism think Leavenworth and Salish Lodge was a big bust many lost their much needed incomes..I think global warming is horrible! Love your blog a lot!

I was reminded of this yesterday when I was out in the yard, hooking up hoses to water the garden & digging through the shed looking for the sprinkler. It was 98 degrees out - pretty much did me in for the rest of the day. Usually takes one episode to remind me that I am no longer the tough physical specimen that I used to be.

Ronie, I don't know if you still keep up with the NYTimes. It has a very enlightening article in the Sunday editorial section about how the body handles heat and humidity. There is a way to measure what the body has to withstand on those days we hate and why so many people die, especially where there is no air conditioning, as in India recently and in Russia a year ago. You might search the Times for that article, I think you'd find it an additional piece of information along with the very good CDC info you've given above.

Montreal can be as hot in summer, as Miami. I keep a stainless steel bottle of water with me all the time.

Just came into the house after doing three hours of whipper snipping and putting down black mulch. the whole time, my water bottle was used big time.

My mom hates air con, so she keeps the curtains closed on the sunny side and wears light clothing. that works for her.

Ceiling fans are good for hot nights.

As a gardener with a new acre to plant I've been out in the sun since march! And as someone raised on the beaches of Los Angeles, I got sufficient sun for my whole life by age 18. That equals a tendency to skin cancer and the nasty little spots that appear on my hands, arms, legs and face!

I try to make sure my body is covered-garden in light weight but long pants and shirt with a big sun hat. And wear sunscreen!

Everyone our age should wear sun screen daily!

Melanoma leaves big ugly scars you don't want to have!

Elle in occasionally sunny Oregon! Like now!

Anytime the temperature is above 72 degrees before I leave the house, I won't walk in the heat. I swim - indoors - and use an indoor gym.

I hate the climate in Kansas and would not be here at all if it were not where my family members live - husband, daughter, granddaughter, great-grandsons. It is 100 degrees as I input this!

The older I get, the hotter I like it. But I know you gotta be careful ... drink plenty of water!

I was thirty eight years old before I lived in a house with central AC. What a revelation.
As soon as the temperature hovers around eighty, we crank it up.
Blessed relief.

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