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Warning: Older age makes you vulnerable to the summer heat

June 1, 2022

Age-related changes increase your risk for two serious conditions.

photo of an older man drinking water while sitting at the open back of a car

Long, hot summers are getting longer and hotter, and could continue on this path as a result of global warming, according to research published March 28, 2021, in Geophysical Research Letters. Scientists found that autumns, winters, and springs have gotten shorter over the last 60 years, and summers have increased by almost 20 days. Among the many concerns this brings, one is increased risk for heat-related health problems, especially as we get older.

Heat and age

Your ability to function relies on maintaining a core (internal) body temperature. "In a hot environment, your temperature starts to rise. Your body releases heat by sweating and carrying blood away from the body’s core to the skin surface, where heat leaves the body. But those functions don’t work as well when you’re older. Heat can build up, putting organs at risk for severe damage," says Dr. Kalpana Shankar, director of Geriatric Emergency Medicine at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

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