August 6, 2018
Summer heat and humidity can be especially dangerous to people with high blood pressure. Here’s what seniors and caregivers should know.
Many of us are aware that weather can play a role in triggering certain health problems. Seniors who suffer from arthritis symptoms, for example, often say winter leaves them feeling tough. Older adults who like to spend time outdoors working in the garden usually realize they need to be careful not to become dehydrated. But people aren’t often aware of the danger associated with high humidity and high blood pressure.
Research shows that high humidity can have serious health consequences for people with high blood pressure and heart disease. For those who live in southern climates, that’s important to know.
As part of Legacy Senior Living’s commitment to quality care for older adults, we are sharing this information for family caregivers to review.
The Connection Between High Humidity and High Blood Pressure
Experts say risk begins to rise when the outside temperature is over 70 degrees and the humidity is at 70 percent or greater. That’s because high humidity and hot temperatures cause the heart to work harder. In fact, the body might need to circulate twice as much blood per minute to remain cool than it does on an average day.
The problem is when there is too much moisture in the air, also known as high humidity, the body has a difficult time sweating enough. While most of us think of sweating as a nuisance, it’s important because it helps cool the body down. Excessive sweating also increases the risk for dehydration because it lowers the amount of fluid in the body. That places even greater strain on the heart.
Who Is Most at Risk for Illnesses Related to Heat and Humidity?
Though heat and humidity can be dangerous to people of all ages, some factors make adults even more vulnerable to a heat-related crisis:
- People age 50 and over
- Adults with heart, lung, and kidney problems
- Seniors who follow a low-salt or low-sodium diet
- People who have a circulatory disease or problems with circulation
- Adults who take diuretics, sedatives, and blood-pressure medication
Warning Signs Caregivers Should Learn to Recognize
If you are a senior or the caregiver for one, it’s important to take a few minutes to review and learn the warning signs of heat- and humidity-related illnesses:
- Rapid pulse
- Excessive sweating or an inability to sweat
- Cold, clammy skin
- Muscle cramps or spasms
- Swelling in extremities
If you or a loved one are exhibiting more than one or two of these symptoms, it’s important to seek medical intervention immediately. In most cases, that means calling 911 for help.
5 Steps to Preventing a Humidity-Related Health Crisis
Here are a few steps you can take that may help you or a senior loved one avoid a heat- or humidity-related medical crisis:
- Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water and consume foods that have high water content such as cucumber, melon, berries, leafy greens, and tomatoes.
- Avoid mid-day heat: Heat and humidity usually reach their peak between noon and 4:00 pm. Schedule errands, chores, and outings around those times whenever possible.
- Wear a hat: Invest in a natural fiber hat with a brim that shields the face.
- Eat smart: Avoid caffeinated foods and beverages, as well as alcohol. They can contribute to dehydration and increase the odds of a heat-related crisis.
- Apply sunscreen: Many people fail to apply sunscreen or don’t apply it often enough. This can lead to sunburn or even a more serious case of sun poisoning. Follow the directions on the sunscreen bottle closely and apply it any time you will be outdoors or riding in a car.
For more articles and resources on health and safety topics for seniors, we encourage you to bookmark the Legacy Blog and stop back often. We share new resources every week!