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Summer nears, and the heat is on

“Some like it hot.” Remember that phrase? Actually, it was a popular, romantic comedy in the late 1950s and early '60s starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemon. In its time, it was provocative comedic cinema; it’s still often referred to as “an American Classic.” In my recall, it was outrageously funny. That film had nothing to do with hot weather. But this column does. And it’s not funny. Well, maybe just a little.

When it comes to weather — some older adults do like it hot. But high temperature days have the potential to produce very negative effects on the aging body, largely because we have a harder time regulating our internal body temperature and adapting our bodies to the weather when it gets really warm outside.

Overheating or heat exhaustion (sometimes called “hyperthermia”) is more common in older adults. And, “Just what is an older adult?” you may ask. In this case, I’ve decided to define it as anyone approaching 50. My daughter who is in her mid-40s and likes to exercise outside in warm weather might have a hard time with this assumption, but I’m determined to make a hot and sticky cautionary point that crosses the demographic of aging adults.

Here’s my take. Our brains have something I think of as an internal air conditioning mechanism that prompts us to sweat when we get too hot. But that mechanism becomes “less efficient” as we get older. The reasons can range from being overweight or over-dressing to the side effects of the medications we take for age-related illnesses. Sometimes those illnesses themselves cause us to overheat. The symptoms of heat exhaustion or the more serious heat stroke are somewhat individual but include sudden dizziness, thirst, headache, nausea and muscle spasms or cramps. More significant symptoms are a high internal body temperature (over 104 degrees), confusion, disorientation etc. Those latter examples call for immediate medical intervention. Check out www.NIH.gov or www.cdc.gov for more references.

Ways to keep from getting overheated are fairly straightforward. First, listen to the weather forecast. If it’s going to be hot and humid, stay inside. Watch a good video. Maybe one with Tony Curtis? Second, keep your home cool. If you have air conditioning, use it. Alternatively, open your windows at night to let in the cooler air; encourage cross-ventilation. Pull the shades or cover windows that receive direct sunlight during the day. Third, hydrate; drink more water and juice and less coffee and alcohol. You know this stuff — but you also know that sometimes we all get a little side-tracked.

Let’s say your family wants to have a mid-day, hot-summer picnic in a local park. Plan ahead by reminding them of the need to set up in the shadiest spot, bring along one of those hand-held fans and extra bottles of water. Wear a wide-brimmed hat and take a sun -protective umbrella. Wear loose, light clothing. Assure you have arranged to leave for a cooler location if you feel the need.

Warm weather can be welcoming to aging joints and a winter-weary psyche. Hot weather; not so much.

— Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor. Reach her at Sharon@agefriendlyinnovators.org.