Dangers Of Heat For Elderly
Blistering summer heat waves can be not only extremely uncomfortable, but often deadly. One of the largest groups susceptible to the heat is the elderly. Those 65 and older have an increased inability to regulate body temperature, when exposed to extremely hot weather, which can lead to hyperthermia.1 When you add health problems, particularly chronic heart, lung or kidney diseases; use of many medications including diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers, and blood pressure medications; and/or sweat gland problems and poor circulation the risk increases further.2 The good news is heat-related deaths and illnesses are preventable, but it is imperative those who care for the elderly take proactive measures to protect their health.
TIPS FOR THE ELDERLY TO STAY SAFE ON THESE HOT SUMMER DAYS:
Wear light, loose-fitting clothing. Many times the elderly don’t always feel as warm as younger people, due to circulatory problems, so they tend to dress warmly even with scorching temperature. Make sure the person chooses lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing, such as cotton or other natural fabrics. Stay away from man-made fabrics such as lycra and polyster. Wear as little clothing as possible whenever inside the home without air condition.
Drink water or juice throughout the day. The elderly do not always sense thirst and will go long periods of time without taking in fluids. It is important to remind them to increase fluids and avoid both alcoholic and caffeinated beverages, which can increase dehydration. If the older person’s doctor generally limits the amount of fluid he consumes or if he takes a water pill make sure to ask his doctor about any short-term changes regarding medications and how much he should drink before making any changes.
Use air conditioning or fans in their homes or rooms. Many elderly are on fixed incomes making them hesitant to use air conditioning even if it is available. If this is the case, or if those items are not available, help the elderly get to cooler locales, even if it is only for a few hours a day. Most important is to make sure an elderly person without air conditioning keeps the windows and/or doors open to allow the air to circulate. It can also help keep the residence cooler if the curtains on the east side of the residence are kept closed during the morning hours while the sun is rising and on the west side of the residence in the evening when the sun is setting.
Minimizing activities that generate heat in the home. This can include cooking meals on the stove or in the oven, as well as running the dryer, unless the areas where these occur are completely separate from the residence facilities. These activities not only increase the temperature of the residential facilities, but also make the air conditioning less efficient.
HEAT-RELATED SYMPTOMS TO LOOK OUT FOR & WHAT TO DO IF THEY OCCUR:
If symptoms such as hot dry skin, paleness, muscle cramps, nausea/vomiting, disorientation, rapid heart rate or fainting occur or are noticed immediately bring the person to a shaded or air-conditioned location.
Encourage them to lie down and cool off. Use a sponge or cloth with cool water applying it to the wrist, neck, armpit or groin where blood circulates close to the skin surface; or if available get him into a cool shower/bath; and monitor his body temperature.
Do not give the person fluids to drink before cooling the body temperature. If heat stroke is suspected, immediately call 911. Warning signs of heat stroke vary but generally include a body temperature above 103° Fahrenheit (taken orally); red, hot, dry skin; throbbing headache; dizziness; nausea; rapid, strong pulse; confusion and unconsciousness.3
If the person’s skin is extremely sweaty and the person is experiencing muscle cramps, heat exhaustion rather than heat stroke is to blame. Although not as serious as heat stroke, heat exhaustion should not be taken lightly. The person should still be taken as stated above to a cool place, encouraged to lie down and apply cool water through use of a sponge/cloth to those areas mentioned above. If the person’s body temperature does not decrease over time then seek medical attention.
1 Summer heat brings dangers for seniors. By Alan Mozes, HealthDay: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/2010-07-31-elderly-hyperthermia_N.htm?csp=34news
2 Heat stress and the elderly: http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Heat_stress_and_the_elderly Summer heat brings dangers for seniors. By Alan Mozes, HealthDay: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/2010-07-31-elderly-hyperthermia_N.htm?csp=34news
3 Extreme Heat: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety. http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/heat_guide.asp