Planning for summer heat
While we are still see sawing between the warm and cool weather cycle of Spring, hot summer weather is just around the corner. Making sure you’re “Summer Smart” when it comes to heat and hydration this year. As people venture outside to enjoy summer pastimes, it is important to take into consideration the heats affect on the body. Nearly 400 Americans die annually from heat related issues and most of them are elderly people who often don’t realize when they are overheating and in danger.
Part of the problem lies in the fact that older people simply can’t handle the heat as well as younger ones, because they don’t sweat as effectively and have poorer circulation. Obesity, heart disease, dementia, diabetes and other chronic medical conditions can compound the risk. So can certain medications, especially diuretics or those prescribed for hypertension and Parkinson’s disease.
An elderly person’s lifestyle also can increase the risk for developing a heat-related illness, such as heat stroke or heat exhaustion. Lifestyle factors include overdressing, lack of transportation and extremely hot living quarters frequently play a factor in heat related illness.
While getting outdoors to engage in summer activities is important to maintain health and wellness, seniors should plan accordingly and know the symptoms of heat related illness. Being aware of high temperature times and scheduling activities accordingly is an easy way to avoid problems.
Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness and occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature. When the body’s temperature rises too fast, the body loses its ability to sweat and is unable to cool down. During heat stroke, body temperatures can rise to 103° F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not given. Various symptoms of heat stroke include an extremely high body temperature (above 103° F); red, hot and dry skin (no sweating); rapid, strong pulse; throbbing headache; dizziness; and nausea.
Heat exhaustion is a milder type of heat-related illness that can develop after prolonged exposure to high temperatures and becoming dehydrated. Warning signs of heat exhaustion vary but may include the following: heavy sweating; paleness; muscle cramps; fatigue; weakness; dizziness; headache; nausea; fainting; cool, moist skin; rapid, weak pulse; and fast, shallow breathing.
Whenever someone who is out in hot weather displays signs of confusion or altered mental states, especially senior citizens, it may well be a sign of heat stroke. As in any situation, if a person should lose consciousness for any length of time, immediately call 911.
To help protect yourself and loved ones from heat related illness, here are some simple tips to follow:
- Drink cool, nonalcoholic beverages; if your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or prescribes water pills for you, ask how much you should drink when the weather is hot
- Don’t over exert yourself in hot weather and make sure to rest
- Take a cool shower, bath or sponge bath
- Seek an air-conditioned environment; if your home is not air conditioned, visit an air-conditioned shopping mall, movie theater or public library to cool off
- Plan outdoor activities in early morning when it is cooler
- Visit or check on elderly relatives, friends and neighbors who are at risk at least twice a day and watch them for signs of heat stroke or heat exhaustion.
- If elderly relatives complain of the cold indoors, turn up the air conditioning a bit. If they won’t stay inside, have them sit on a shady porch under a ceiling fan or near a box fan.
- To keep the house cooler without running the air conditioning, close curtains or blinds on the east side of the home during the morning, and the west side in the afternoon.
- Keep frozen treats available that have a high water and low sugar content, like sugar-free Popsicles (you can make your own using juice), frozen grapes and berries. Keep stocked up on fruits with high water content, like watermelon.
- Make sure that clothing is lightweight, not form fitting and light in color.
- Hats are useful, but make sure that they are loosely woven or ventilated so they don’t trap heat and broad-brimmed so they shade the entire face.
If you observe a person who may be suffering from heat stroke, instruct someone to call for immediate medical assistance while you begin cooling the affected person by doing the following:
Take the person to a shady area or an air-conditioned facility
- Cool the person rapidly by any means necessary – immerse the person in a tub of cool water, place the person in a cool shower, spray the person with cool water from a garden hose or sponge the person with cool water
- Offer fluids such as water and fruit and vegetable juices, but avoid alcohol and caffeine
For more information on health and safety for seniors, visit National Institute On Aging website at www.nia.nih.gov