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There's a lot to enjoy about summer: the longer days, warmer temperatures, and sunshine are all great incentives to enjoy some time outdoors.

However, summer comes with its own set of dangers and risks—namely, heat stroke. Recent years have seen record-breaking heat waves across large swaths of the country, thanks in no small part to the progression of climate change. While this poses a potential public health danger to everyone, it's particularly concerning for older adults, who have greater difficulty staying hydrated and handling changes in body temperature.

Preventing Heat Stroke

If untreated, heat stroke can be deadly. In California alone, at least 599 people died of heat-related causes between 2010 and 2019—and experts believe that number might be an underestimate. For that reason, it's extremely important that seniors and their caregivers know the basics of heat stroke prevention:

  • Stay in air conditioning as much as possible. If your home doesn't have air conditioning, consider spending time in public air-conditioned spaces, such as libraries or community centers.
  • Try to reduce your oven and stove usage as much as possible to keep the heat down in your home.
  • If you exercise outdoors, try to do so early in the morning or later in the evening.
  • Wear sunscreen and clothing that is lightweight, light-colored, and loose-fitting.
  • Stay hydrated, and don't wait until you're thirsty to drink water. If you have trouble remembering to drink fluids regularly, consider setting a recurring alarm to remind yourself it's time to hydrate.

Recognizing the Signs of Heat Stroke

Being able to prevent heat stroke from happening in the first place is ideal, but failing that, it's equally important to be able to recognize the symptoms of heat stroke and respond appropriately. Here's what to look for:

  • High body temperature
  • Confusion, dizziness, nausea, lethargy, or other mental or behavioral agitation
  • Headache
  • Rapid breathing and/or elevated heart rate
  • Flushed appearance
  • Dry, cold, or clammy skin

If you suspect that you or someone you're with is experiencing heat stroke, call 911 or get medical attention as soon as possible. While waiting, do everything you can to keep them cool: move indoors or into shade, remove any unnecessary layers, and drink water or electrolyte beverages. If possible, apply wet cloths to their skin, spray them with water, or have them sit in a cool bath to lower their body temperature.

Spectrum Community Services is committed to improving the quality of life for low-income families, seniors, and individuals in Alameda County. Through financial assistance and other services, our goal is to support community members in building healthy, safe, and independent lives. Your tax-deductible gift helps fund vital programs. Visit our website for more information, or contact us to learn about current volunteer opportunities. We can't wait to work with you!