A new study has discovered that electric fans may exacerbate heat issues for seniors. Seniors and sick people have a difficult time adjusting to changes in temperature, so the study suggests that electric fans may not be as effective for those groups.
The study looked at eight adults from ages 60 to 80 who agreed to sit in a chamber that resembled a walk-in freezer, but it was actually heated to 107 degrees. Humidity was gradually increased to 70% using a steam generator. Participants sat 16-inches away from an electric fan on day one, and on the following day no fan was used.
On day one—electric fan day—the senior’s conditions seemed to worsen. Their heart rate increased and their internal body temperature was actually higher when the fan was present compared to when it was not. Although such changes aren’t dangerous in the short term, in the long run they can lead to additional stress on the heart.
On the other hand,when the same experiment was conducted on young adults, the results were reversed.
The results of the study could be attributed to sweat and sweating. Sweating is our body’s natural way of keeping us cool; perspiration evaporates from the skin’s surface which cools us down. A fan can expedite the process of evaporation by blowing air over damp skin. Seniors don’t sweat as much as young adults, which is most likely what caused the reverse effects.
The advice from the researchers is for seniors to seek out air conditioning during extreme heat or heat waves. Furthermore, they should drink plenty of fluids. Although the researchers are not suggesting that seniors stop using electric fans completely, they do want to make them aware of the possible hazards.
Gagnon, D., et. Al., “Cardiac and Thermal Strain of Elderly Adults Exposed to Extreme Heat and Humidity With and Without Electric Fan Use,” JAMA, doi:10.1001/jama.2016.10550, http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2547743, last accessed September 8, 2016.