According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, extreme heat causes an average of 658 deaths per year in the United States. That’s more than many natural disasters in this country! No one is more at risk from heat exhaustion and heat stroke than the elderly and those with chronic medical conditions.
Taking certain medications like beta blockers and diuretics, having medical issues like heart disease and just living alone all increase your risk for heat stress and are common traits among senior citizens. Heat stress can result in minor inconveniences like heat rash or cramping or it can create serious problems like dehydration, heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Preventing heat-related illness is an important part of senior health.
Good advice for any age is to pay attention to your body when it’s warm and be aware of the symptoms of heat stress, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Here are a few symptoms to watch out for when the weather gets warm. Avoid spending too much time outdoors all at once, but if it does happen, be aware of the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
The most common signs of heat exhaustion are:
▪ Dehydration ▪ Dizziness ▪ Fatigue
▪ Headaches ▪ Nausea ▪ Vomiting
▪ Clammy skin ▪ Cramping ▪ Dark urine
▪ Fainting ▪ Hot, dry skin ▪ Paleness, even when hot
Heat stroke is the more severe and symptoms include the above as well as:
▪ High body temperature
▪ Alternating between chills and sweating ▪ Flushed skin
▪ Rapid breathing
▪ Racing heart rate
▪ Confusion or disorientation
▪ Severe headache
If you notice these symptoms, get indoors or in the shade immediately, drink water and remove any unnecessary clothing. For both heat exhaustion and heat stroke in the elderly, seek medical help immediately. Call 911 and cool the person down by getting them to shade or air conditioning as quickly as possible. Use any means necessary to cool the body’s temperature like wet towels, a hose or ice packs placed in the armpits and groin area or even a cool bath.
Prevention is far better than treatment. If the temperature is over 80 degrees Fahrenheit, seniors need to take precautions.
- Limit your time outside in the hottest parts of the day: from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Even if you stay in the shade, the heat and humidity can do just as much damage without the sun being directly on you.
- Drink plenty of water. Fluids will keep your body hydrated and less likely to suffer the ill effects of heat exhaustion. Avoid any drinks with alcohol in them; they will only dehydrate your body and make the situation worse.
- If you must go out, ensure that you are wearing proper attire. Hats with a wide brim, loose fitted clothing, and sunscreen all help to protect you from the heat.
- Light colors help to reflect the sun’s rays and the heat associated with it. Whites and pastels will keep you much cooler than dark blues and blacks. Also be sure that your clothing is lightweight and loose fitting.
- Make sure your AC is functioning.
- Avoid exercise and other strenuous activity in the extreme heat. Workout in air conditioned gymnasiums or through activities that are cooling, such as swimming.
- Avoid hot areas such as attics or cars that have been outside for a long time. Cool your car down before getting in.
- Discuss all your medications with your doctor to learn which can increase your risk of heat-related illnesses.
- Last, but not least, younger people should check on older loved ones often.
One of the most dangerous issues with overexertion in the summer is actually a psychological one. Many people, especially the elderly, do not want to admit when they can’t do something safely. Some would rather risk severe injury or death rather than appear weak or incapable. However, be aware of your own limitations and the seriousness of the summer weather. Don’t allow your idea of what you could do in the past keep you from taking care of your health now.
As always, David York Agency is available to assist in any way you need to ensure that your loved one gets the very best of care. We provide skilled home health aide services for the elderly in their home and are abreast of all the latest guidelines for seniors.