Weather Updates

Over 65? You should worry about the heat

IndianWalt82 GrRapids cools herself front porch her JeffersSt SE GrRapids Mich. home while her daughter Tamardrinks cold sodpop Tuesday July

Indiana Walton, 82, of Grand Rapids, cools herself on the front porch of her Jefferson St SE in Grand Rapids, Mich. home while her daughter, Tamara, drinks a cold soda pop, Tuesday, July 19, 2011. (AP Photo/The Grand Rapids Press, Rex Larsen)

storyidforme: 15552999
tmspicid: 5478691
fileheaderid: 2622882
Article Extras
Story Image

Updated: July 21, 2011 12:59PM

This week’s heat wave poses particular dangers for people over 65, experts say.

An older body contains far less water than a younger one. Older brains can’t sense temperature changes as well, and they don’t recognize thirst as easily.

A federal study found that 40 percent of heat-related deaths were in people 65 and older. Those numbers could be lower if more heeded heat warnings aimed at seniors. Yet research has shown many people over 65 don’t think the warnings apply to them — in many cases because they don’t view themselves as being old.

“I don’t pay too much attention to those” warnings, says Don Worden, 79, of Chicago, a tennis buff who plays doubles on outdoor courts along the lakefront even in 90-degree-plus heat. “I stay in pretty good shape.”

Worden said he drinks a lot of water and would stop a match if he started feeling effects from the heat, “but that hasn’t happened.”

Scott Sheridan, who studies the effects of heat and climate on health at Kent State University, researched how people over 65 view heat warnings. In his 2006 study of more than 900 people, he found about 70 percent knew about advice to drink plenty of water on very hot days, avoid outdoor activities and stay inside with air conditioning. But only about half said they followed the advice.

“People well into their 70s would say old people should watch out but not them,” he says. “People just didn’t want to be thought of in that same category.”

As Dr. William Dale, geriatrics chief at the University of Chicago Medical Center explains it, “Any older adult has less reserve and is more likely to become dehydrated than others just because their overall body water goes down with age, no matter how healthy you are.”

The amount of water in the body declines with aging, from about 80 percent in young adulthood to about 55 to 60 percent for people in their 80s, Dale says.

Dale generally tells his older patients to drink a quart of water throughout the day — and to drink even if they don’t feel thirsty.

Doctors also advise older patients to avoid alcohol and coffee during extreme heat because they can cause the body to lose fluid.


© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.