Summer is a season when many activities take place outdoors, with warm temperatures and long days. As people venture outside to enjoy their favorite summer pastimes, extremely high temperatures can affect the body’s ability to keep cool.
“Although anyone can be vulnerable to summer heat, some people are at greater risk than others,” said Tina Kreider, owner of Right at Home of Santa Barbara. “Persons over age 65 particularly are at high risk for suffering a heat-related illness.”
Senior citizens are susceptible to intense heat because their bodies may be less efficient than younger adults to adequately respond to rising temperatures. Senior citizens also are more likely to have medical conditions that change normal body responses to heat, and they are more likely to take prescription medicines that weaken the body’s ability to regulate its temperature or that prevent perspiration.
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, extremely hot living quarters and misunderstanding weather conditions. While getting outdoors to engage in summer activities is important to maintain health and wellness, seniors should be aware of heat-related illness and take steps to avoid succumbing to the effects of summer heat.
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 degrees Fahrenheit 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 degrees); 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. Click here for more information about other heat-related illnesses.
Follow these tips to protect you and elderly loved ones from heat-related illnesses:
» 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.
» 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.
» Wear lightweight, loose-fitting, cotton clothing; if outdoors, wear a hat.
» 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 you are unable to check up on an elderly relative, consider contacting Right at Home in Santa Barbara for assistance. Trained and bonded caregivers are available to ensure that your loved one is staying cool and drinking plenty of fluids during the hot summer months. They also can transport your loved one to an air-conditioned location if necessary in order to escape extreme heat.
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.