Heat Stress In Seniors- Tips to Beat the Heat this Summer
by Allie BritoJune 21, 2017
While summertime is mostly associated with happy times, vacations, and lots of sunny days on the lake or at the beach, the high temperatures that come with it can suck the fun out of anyone’s summer. If you’re one of the many households that doesn’t have a central air conditioning unit, this time of year can get a bit rough, especially for those living in regions of the US that have been seeing record-breaking temperatures reaching triple digits during the past few summers.
Although the heat doesn’t seem to bother those children down the street running through the sprinklers, the dangerously high temperatures we’ve been seeing across the nation can have dire consequences for seniors. Heat stroke and heat exhaustions are serious concerns for individuals over 65 who do not have reliable cooling systems in their homes. Older adults are more susceptible to heat stress due to the fact that they are more likely to develop chronic medical conditions that alter how their body responds to heat, as well as take more medications which can impede their body’s ability to regulate temperature and perspire adequately.
Heat Stroke & Heat Exhaustion
According to the CDC, heat stroke is the most critical and dangerous form of heat-related stress because it can cause death or permanent damage if emergency measures are not taken. Heat stroke in seniors is very common and occurs when the body becomes (for reasons discussed above) is unable to regulate its temperature. When there is a sudden rise in temperature, body temperature rises as well, the body loses it’s ability to perspire which means it is unable to get rid of the heat and cool itself down. In some cases, body temperatures can rise to 106°F or higher within 15 minutes and have disastrous implications.
Heat exhaustion is still serious, but is the milder type of heat-related illness seen in seniors. It can develop after several days of heat exposure especially when the individual is not consuming adequate amounts of fluids to regulate body temperature and to compensate for hydration lost through days and days of sweating.
Signs and Symptoms of Heat Stroke
An extremely high body temperature (above 103°F)
Red skin irritation, dry skin, no sweat
Rapid or strong pulse
Dizziness and confusion
Headache that throbs with pain
Signs and Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion
Loss of color in the face or paleness
Lethargy or tiredness
Dizziness or confusion
Fainting or feeling light headed
Nausea or vomiting
Fast and Weak pulse (as opposed to strong seen in heat stroke)
Breathing that is fast and shallow
Here are some important tips for you and your aging loved one to help avoid heat-related illnesses this summer:
If at all possible, seek air-conditioned environments or take your aging loved one to an area that uses central air if they do not have it in their own homes. Public libraries, malls, and grocery stores can be easy and accessible options.
Drink cool, nonalcoholic beverages, preferably water or electrolyte rich drinks. Encourage any older loved ones to do so too. Keep in mind- if you are your loved one are on water pills or have been given instructions by a doctor to limit your fluid intake, consult with your doctor on what your intake limit is when temperatures are too hot to handle.
Use water on the outside of your body too. Take a cold sponge bath or cool shower, or place and ice cube on your wrist or on your neck area where the coldness of the ice cube will be carried throughout your body by the arteries and veins in those areas.
Rest up. Don’t push yourself too hard physically when temperatures are up. While you may feel like you have the energy to mow the entire lawn, that extra energy that is exerted when we engage in physically demanding activities could raise your body temperature to dangerous numbers when paired with extreme heat. If you MUST be on the move, make sure you’re getting lots of sleep and taking naps which naturally cool your body down.
Dress for the weather. Wear lightly colored and lightweight clothing made of cotton and breathable material. Help your aging loved one pick out some cool items and set them out for the week so they don’t have to worry about being too hot because of what they are wearing.
If your aging loved one lives alone without air conditioning, be sure to visit them at least twice a day and know the signs of heat-related illness like heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Stay inside and keep the curtains closed. While it may be tempting to let the sunshine in on this gorgeous summer day, the UV rays can do a number on the temperature inside your home.
Use cotton bedding during the summertime.
Be sure that ceiling fans are moving in the right direction. Many people don’t know this, but counter-clockwise offers a stronger breeze to help you stay cool.
Be strategic about the air flow you can control if you don’t have A/C. Help seniors understand which windows and doors will create the best cross-breeze!
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