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Senior Living: Feeling the heat

Q. I feel that the heat affects me more now than when I was younger. Are there extra precautions I should take?

Emma, La Crescenta


When we are in the heat too long, we can experience heat exhaustion or even heat stroke. The symptoms of heat exhaustion are dizziness, headache and muscle cramps. The symptoms of heat stroke are difficulty breathing, hot or flushed skin and confusion.


In both cases the body needs to be physically cooled down by a cool sponge bath or immersion in a tub of cool water, and medical attention should be sought.

Our bodies don’t adjust to high temperatures as well when we get older, so we do need to be careful. You need to drink lots of fluids even when you don’t feel thirsty. You need to avoid caffeine, alcohol and soda, which can all lead to dehydration.

It is a good idea to ask the pharmacist if any of your medications will make you more sensitive to heat and/or sun. Many of them do. Being asthmatic also affects your tolerance of heat. You should try to stay in air-conditioned places and avoid going outside in the heat of the day. Fans and cold, wet compresses may also be used.

You have probably heard that you absorb Vitamin D from sunshine. It has been suggested, for example, that about five to 30 minutes of sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. at least twice a week to the face, arms, legs or back without sunscreen usually lead to sufficient vitamin D. Individuals with limited sun exposure need to include good sources of vitamin D in their diet or take a supplement.


Despite the importance of the sun to vitamin D synthesis, it is prudent to limit exposure of skin to sunlight. UV radiation is a carcinogen responsible for most of the estimated 1.5 million skin cancers and the 8,000 deaths due to metastatic melanoma that occur annually in the United States. It is not known whether a desirable level of regular sun exposure exists that imposes no (or minimal) risk of skin cancer over time.

NANCY TURNEY received a bachelor’s degree in social work and a certificate in gerontology. If you have a specific question you would like answered in this column, e-mail it to or call Turney at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA, (818) 790-0123, ext. 225.