“It’s Too Darn Hot” –
Fact Sheet Planning for Excessive
Information for Older Adults and
id you know that each creates “heat islands” that are
year in the United hotter than areas outside of the
States more people city and don’t cool off at night.
die from excessive In areas with fewer people,
heat than from hurricanes, light- more trees and fewer streets
ning, tornadoes, earthquakes, and buildings help things cool
and floods combined? 2 down overnight.
“An excessive heat event,” or
“heat wave” occurs when the How Does the
summer heat is 10 degrees Body Cool Itself?
higher than the average high
temperature for a region.3 For Sweating, or perspiration helps
example, 95-degree weather to cool the body. However,
During an average over several days in an area that under some conditions,
averages 85 degrees would be perspiration just isn’t enough
summer, there are and people stay hot. This
an excessive heat event, or heat
more than 1,700 heat- wave. This heat is unpleasant. It can cause a person’s body
is also especially dangerous for temperature to rise rapidly.
related deaths in the
older people. The longer high When this happens, the very
United States.1 In temperatures last, the more high temperatures can damage
1995, a heat wave in dangerous the heat becomes. the brain or other vital organs.
High humidity, when the air is
Chicago killed more
Where Are Heat Waves full of water, makes it harder
than 700 people. The
Most Dangerous? to sweat and cool the body.
summer of 2003 in Drinking alcohol or working or
Heat waves can be dangerous playing outside during the heat
Europe, a record heat anywhere, but especially in can also make it hard for the
wave killed about cities. Streets and buildings body to cool down.
take in and keep the heat. This
35,000 people. In
both cases, most
of the victims were Electric fans help to move the air,
older adults. but they do not cool off the body
when the temperature is in the high 90s.
off. Being overweight also
makes it harder for the body
What Can Be Done to to cool off.
Help the Body Cool Off? L
• ive on Top Floors: People
who live on the top floors
of buildings are more at risk
Prevention is the best medicine. The best because heat rises and it is
way to avoid heat-related problems is to often warmer there than on
not get overheated. lower floors.
• o Air-conditioning:
• ir conditioning is the best defense.4 People who do not have air
Spending time in air conditioned conditioning are also likely
location, (even a few hours); during to experience problems
during heat events.
the hottest times of the day can be
• ed Ridden: People who
very helpful. If you don’t have air- are not able to get out of the
conditioning in your home, visit family house and go to places where
or friends who do. Go to the library, it is cooler are also at risk.
a movie theater, a senior center, or a
shopping mall. Check to see if your What Happens When the
town has a “cooling center” which is Body Fails to Cool Down?
a building with air conditioning where When the skin cannot cool
people can gather during a heat wave. down, body temperatures can
quickly get too hot. This can
• Take a cool shower or bath.5 cause a health problem called
“heat stroke.” Important organs
• rink lots of fluids, and don’t wait
D like the brain can overheat and
be damaged permanently. In
until you feel thirsty. Drink regularly some cases, this can lead to
throughout the day and night. life-long disability or death.
Warning signs of being
overheated should be taken
Who is Likely very seriously. These signs
to Suffer Most include:
During a Heat Wave? R
• ed, hot, dry skin (lack of
• lder Adults: As people get • Confusion
older, the body’s ability to
cool itself may not work as H
• allucinations (seeing,
well as it used to. hearing, or smelling things
that aren’t there)
• eople with Health
Problems: People who
are sick are at greater risk
of extreme heat. Some
medicines may make it
harder for the body to cool
Find out if your area has a Warning System
and how you can get more information.
How Can I Keep Cool? Local governments also provide other
• f your heath care provider asks
I assistance. They can…
you to limit the amount of fluids L
• et the media know about a coming heat
you drink, ask how much is safe wave so it will be reported in the news.
to drink when it is hot. Be sure S
• et up telephone information lines to
to find out an exact amount, answer questions about protection and
such as “one 12-ounce glass” signs of illness.
and how often.
• ell people how to help an older family
• void beverages that contain member or neighbor during a heat wave.
caffeine, alcohol, or large
amounts of sugar. These drinks M
• ake air-conditioned buildings available
can overheat or dehydrate you. and provide a way to get there.
Ask your health care provider if M
• ake sure that homeless people can find
your medicines might dehydrate cool spaces.
you. If so, find out what to do M
• ake educational materials available
about it. Do not stop taking your to agencies, senior centers, places of
medicine unless your doctor or worship, and supermarkets.
nurse says it is ok.
• ork with utilities to ensure no one’s
• f you live alone, be sure electricity is turned off during a heat wave.
someone checks on you at least
twice a day during a heat wave.
Ask a friend or your caregiver to
What is EPA’s Aging Initiative?
check for signs of heat-related To help older adults enjoy a longer and
symptoms, such as hot, dry skin, healthier life and protect their loved ones, the
confusion, or hallucinations. EPA developed a program called the Aging
• all 911 if you need help or
C Initiative. It helps with research, develops plans
medical attention. that cities can use to prevent sickness during
heat waves, and sponsors public education
about things in the environment that can affect
health. For more information, visit the EPA’s
Web site at www.epa.gov/aging.
What are Heat Alert Systems?
Local governments can develop heat alert
systems and help protect the public from
Something called a “Heat Health Watch
Warning System” lets the public know when
a heat wave is coming. Local health officials
then get this warning out to older adults and
their caregivers and to others who might
suffer during a heat wave. These systems
have been set up in cities around the country,
including in Philadelphia, Seattle, Chicago,
and St. Louis.
How Can Communities Help Cool the Air?
Communities can require the use of construction materials that do not absorb heat. When
possible, they can build roads and sidewalks using light-colored material that does not hold heat.
In addition, they can start programs to plant more trees and bushes. Each of these steps helps to:
• Lower the air temperature
• Reduce air pollution
• Decrease energy consumption
• Improve everyone’s comfort
Other References Endnotes
Environmental Protection Agency, 1. Davis, R.E., P.C. Knappenberger, P.J.
Heat Island Reduction Initiative Michaels, and W.M. Novicoff. 2003.
http://www.epa.gov/heatisland Changing heat-related mortality in the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention United States. Environmental Health
http://www.cdc.gov/aging/ Perspectives 111(14):1712-1718.
http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/hsb/extremeheat 2. Centers for Disease Control and
http://www.cdc.gov/MMWR Prevention, 2003. Extreme Heat. Available
Environmental Health Perspectives online: http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/hsb/
National Weather Service, 3. Federal Emergency Management
Heat Wave and Heat Index Administration, Backgrounder on Extreme
http://www.nws.noaa.gov/pa/secnews/heat/ Heat, Feb. 2003
National Weather Service 4. Naughton MP, Henderson A, Mirabelli MC,
http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/hazstats.shtml Kaiser R, Wilhelm JL, Kieszak SM, Rubin
CH, McGeehin MA. Heat-related mortality
American Medical Association, during a 1999 heat wave in Chicago. Am
Heat-Related Illness During Extreme J Prev Med. 2002 May;22(4):328-9.
http://www.ama-assn.org 5. McMichael, A.J., L.S. Kalkstein and other
lead authors, 1996. Climate Change and
Heat Wave Awareness Project Human Health, (eds. A.J. McMichael,
http://www.esig.ucar.edu/heat/literate.html A. Haines, R. Slooff, S. Kovats). World
Medline Plus, Health Organization, and United Nations
Heat Illness Environment Programme (Who/WMO/
http://www.niapublications.org/ UNEP), Geneva, 297 pp.
Publication Number EPA 100-F-09-019