Preparing for Extreme Heat

Extreme heat can be dangerous, especially for adults aged 65+. Follow the steps on this page to protect you and your loved ones during hot days.

Table of Contents

About Extreme Heat

When temperatures reach above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, adults aged 65+ are at a greater risk of experiencing heat-related side-effects, particularly those with certain chronic medical conditions or those who take prescription medications that affect the body's ability to control temperature and sweat.  

Protect yourself and those you care for from potential illness by taking these steps: 

  • Limit sun exposure and stay indoors. Schedule outdoor activities for a day or time with cooler temperatures such as early morning or evening and rest in the shade or in cool indoor spaces when needed. 
  • Slow down and take it easy. Limit exercise and activity during extreme heat and be prepared to rest more than usual. If exertion feels more difficult than normal (pounding heart/gasping for breath, etc.) stop and rest, preferably in a cool and/or shady location.  
  • Drink more water than normal and do so before you feel thirsty. If your doctor limits the amount of fluids you take or has you on water pills, ask them how much water you should drink in hot weather.  
  • Turn on your air conditioning if you have it.  
  • If your home doesn't have air conditioning or if there is a power outage during warm weather: 
    • Spend the warmest part of the day in air-conditioned public spaces such as libraries, theaters, shopping centers, schools, and other community facilities. 
    • Ask friends and family with air conditioning if you can visit their homes. 
    • Go to an air-conditioned cooling center.  On extremely hot days, local cooling centers are often open.  To learn if there is a cooling center open near you or to find a local shelter, call 2-1-1 or reach out to your local Council on Aging
  • Don’t rely on fans as your main source for cooling. Fans by themselves won’t prevent heat-related illness when the temperature is over 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Fans used above 95 degrees may actually increase the chance of heat-related illness by creating airflow and a sense of comfort without reducing body temperature. 
  • Reduce the amount of time you use your oven or stove to cook. 
  • Take cool showers and baths or wet your clothing to cool down. 
  • Monitor local news or weather reports so you know when a hot day is coming and can plan ahead. 
  • Have friends, family, or caregivers check on at-risk older adults twice per day for signs of heat-related illness. 
  • Seek medical care immediately if you or someone you know has symptoms of heat-related illness like muscle cramps, headaches, nausea or vomiting. 

Signs and Symptoms of Heat-Related Illness

  • Heat Cramps - Heat cramps are muscular pains and spasms caused by heavy sweating. Symptoms include muscular pains and spasms that usually occur in the legs or abdomen.  
  • Heat Edema - Heat edema is a swelling in the ankles and feet when someone gets hot and has a tendency to affect older adults. Symptoms include swelling that usually occurs in the legs, ankles or feet.  
  • Heat Exhaustion - Heat exhaustion typically occurs when people overexert themselves in a warm, humid place, and often affects those doing strenuous work in hot weather. Body fluids are lost through heavy sweating and blood flow to the skin increases, causing blood flow to vital organs to decrease. This results in a form of mild shock.  Symptoms include cool, moist, pale or flushed skin, nausea, dizziness, headache, weakness, and/or exhaustion. 
  • Heat Stroke - Heat stroke is the most serious heat emergency and is life-threatening. Heat stroke develops when systems in the body begin to stop functioning due to extreme heat. Heat stroke may cause brain damage or death if the body is not cooled quickly. Symptoms include extremely high body temperature, hot and red skin (dry or moist), loss of consciousness, changes in level of responsiveness rapid and weak pulse, rapid and shallow breathing, vomiting, confusion, and/or seizures. Heat Stroke is a medical emergency. If you think someone has heat stroke, call 911 right away. Move the person to a cooler place and help lower their temperature with cool wet cloths or a cool bath.  

Get Help Paying for Air Conditioning

Households in Massachusetts may qualify for assistance with air conditioning costs. Find out if you qualify by exploring the programs below. 

  • Discounted Energy Rates - Find out if you qualify for discounted energy rates through National Grid or Eversource.  
  • Financial Rebates for Air Conditioners - Households may apply for Mass Save rebates when purchasing an ENERGY STAR air conditioner.  
  • Weatherization Assistance (Insulating and Sealing Your Home) - Massachusetts Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) provides eligible households with full-scale home energy efficiency services. The program is funded by an annual grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, and administered by a network of local agencies, in many areas the same agency that administers the Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP or fuel assistance). Learn more about WAP and how to apply for the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) 
  • Massachusetts Good Neighbor Energy Fund - The Massachusetts Good Neighbor Energy Fund is available to any Massachusetts resident who, because of temporary financial difficulty, cannot meet a month’s energy expense and is not eligible for state or federal energy assistance. Household income must fall between 60 and 80 percent of the state’s median income levels. For more information, visit the Good Neighbor website or call 1-800-334-3047.

How to Prepare Your Home for Hot Weather

Cover windows that receive morning or afternoon sun with drapes, shades, or window reflectors such as aluminum foil covered cardboard to reflect light back outside. Outdoor awnings or louvers can reduce the heat that enters a home by up to 80 percent. 

If you have air conditioning, check that the system is operating properly and installed snugly, insulating if necessary. It can be a good idea to do this before the hot summer months arrive. 

In the event you cannot use your air conditioning on hot days (e.g. power outage), or if you don't have air conditioning, it can be helpful to identify ahead of time what you would do when there is an extreme heat event. Determine where you might be able to go and how you can stay cool. Make a list of any friends or family you think you might be able to stay with if it gets too hot during the day or overnight. Consider calling them now to find out if you might be able to visit during an extreme heat event. Identify public spaces where you can spend time during the heat of the day - you might check with your local library, mall, community center, or go to a movie. 

Stay connected. Try to identify someone you think might be able to check on you during extreme heat events and consider having a conversation with them to see if they would be willing to do so – in person checks are best, but a video call or a phone call is also helpful. The CDC recommends that someone check on adults aged 65+ twice a day during heat events.

Caregiver Checklist

If you are a caregiver or have an older adult as a friend, neighbor, or loved one, the CDC recommends checking in on the older adult twice a day during extreme heat events. When checking on the older adult, use the following as a checklist: 

  • What is the indoor and outdoor temperature where they are? 
  • Are they drinking enough water and taking steps to stay hydrated? 
  • Do they have access to air conditioning and/or a cool location?  
  • Do they know where to go if their home is too hot and do they have transportation to a cool location? 
  • How are they feeling? Do they show any signs of heat stress or heat related illness? 

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