Updated: Jul 20
Too much heat can be dangerous for anyone, but the phrase “Fun-in-the-Sun” should be taken with higher caution for senior citizens and their caregivers. It’s mid-July and the height of the summer heat waves across many areas of the country, essentially affecting millions of individuals. While most individuals can regulate their body temperatures normally, senior citizens are especially prone to suffering heat strokes and other heat-related illnesses.
What is a heat stroke?
Heat stroke is form of hyperthermia in which the internal temperature of the body is elevated drastically to a core temperature of 104F or higher. A heat stroke is considered to be a medical emergency and is potentially fatal if not treated promptly and effectively. Heat strokes can cause major damage to or kill the brain and other internal organs. If you suspect a heat stroke, you need to get medical help right away. Signs of heatstroke include:
· Fainting or becoming unconscious
· Behavioral changes – acting confused, agitated, staggering around, being short-tempered or snappy, or overall acting strangely
· Dry, flushed skin with a slow, weak pulse or a strong, rapid pulse
· Not sweating, despite hot temperatures
· Body temperature over 104F
Why are seniors more prone to heat stroke?
As we age, our bodies can become less capable to respond to sudden heat changes in temperature. If not monitored, this can become a serious issue. We become less adequate at responding to heat changes as we age is because we are more likely to develop chronic medical issues that change our body’s normal response to heat. Often, senior citizens take commonly prescribed medications that may affect the body’s sweat and temperature responses.
Staying aware of health-related factors that increase the risk of heat stroke may be key in saving yourself or a loved one’s life.
According to the National Institute on Aging, some of these factors include:
· Heart, lung, and kidney diseases, as well as other illnesses that easily cause fever or overall weakness
· Hypertension (high blood pressure) or any conditions that require salt-restricted diets.
· Taking medications such as diuretics, tranquilizers, heart and blood pressure drugs, and sedatives (these can make it much more difficult for the body to try and cool itself naturally.)
· Poor blood circulation, inefficient sweat glands or any other changes to the skin that are normal with aging.
· Being considerably overweight or underweight
· Drinking alcoholic beverages
· Being dehydrated
Other lifestyle factors can also increase the risk such as lack of transportation, overdressing, high temperature living quarters, visiting crowded place, and not understanding how to respond to weather conditions.
What should you do if you suspect a heat stroke?
First off, call 911 if you suspect that someone is suffering from a heat stroke or another heat-related illness. Secondly, try to help the individual cool down and lower their core temperature. If possible, try to do the following:
· Move the individual out of the heat and into an air-conditioned place. If air conditioning is not close by, try to move them to the closest place of shade.
· If the individual can safely swallow, try to offer fluids such as water, fruit, or vegetable juice. Refrain from offering alcohol or caffeine, as these could make symptoms worse.
· Apply a wet, cold cloth the individuals’ neck, armpits, wrists, and groin. These are the areas of the body where the blood passes close to the surface of the skin. The cold compress can help cool the blood flow.
· If it is safe to do so, try to encourage the individual to take a cool shower, bath, or use a sponge to help cool other parts of the body.
How can you stay cool and hydrated during hot temperature months?
Considering the recent health crisis, staying mostly indoors and quarantined from the public has become the norm for many individuals, including senior citizens who are at a higher risk of infection. However, that does not mean that these individuals are still not at risk of overheating or dehydrating. Here are some extra tips to help:
· Do not rely on just fans as the main cooling source for your home during a heat wave.
· Stay in air-conditioned areas as much as possible. Contact your local health department or locate an air-conditioned shelter if your home does not have air-conditioning.
· Refrain from using your stove top or oven to cook if possible. If necessary, only use the stove and oven early in the day if temperatures are lower.
· Hydrate! Drink more water than usual and be sure to not wait until you are thirsty to drink water.
o If you are on a restricted fluid limit due to medical conditions, ask your doctor how much you should be drinking during hot weather months.
· Do not engage in strenuous activities.
· Check on your elderly neighbors!
Remember; outdoor temperatures do not need to reach 100F to put individuals as risk for heat stroke or other heat-related illnesses. Try to make daily visits to older relatives and neighbors to check on their well-being during these high temperature months and remind them to drink plenty of water. Help get them medical attention if you suspect any heat-related illnesses. It's cool to keep cool!
If you or a loved one is having a hard time paying for home cooling and heating costs, here are some additional resources that might be of help. Contact the National Energy Assistance Referral service, our local Area Agency on Aging, senior centers, or the social service agency.