People aged 65 years and older are more prone to heat-related health problems.
During the coldest months of the year, you’d be hard-pressed not to find someone daydreaming about summer. Thoughts of blue skies, fluffy clouds, and bright rays of sunlight can warm the heart and mind at such a time. For many, summertime served as the backdrop to the golden days of youth. Family vacations. Swimming at the beach. Sports games. Even running around the neighborhood in the sweltering heat was fun! While reminiscing about hot summer days as children are fond memories, those same sun-filled days can create harmful health risks for older adults.
Many know the senior community is at a much higher risk for heat stress than younger people. But do those aware understand why? Do they know the signs and symptoms of heat-related issues? Knowing the answers to these questions can help elders navigate the summer heat a little easier for a more enjoyable summer season.
Why Are Older People at Risk for Heat Stress?
Seniors are more likely to be affected by seasonal heat for different reasons. As people get older, their bodies do not adjust to changes in temperature like they used to, particularly for those who suffer from chronic medical conditions. Prescription medications may also impair the ability to regulate their body temperature or may inhibit perspiration.
Heat stroke is one of the more serious heat-related illnesses. It occurs when the body cannot control its temperature. Heat stroke occurs within 10 to 15 minutes and increases body temperatures to 106 degrees or higher. The person loses their ability to sweat and cool down. If not treated quickly, death or permanent injury can take place.
The signs of heat stroke will vary but can include a rapid and strong pulse, throbbing headache, dizziness, nausea, red and hot dry skin (without sweating), and extremely high body temperature (above 103 degrees).
Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness. It can develop after several days of exposure to hot temperatures. It can also develop as a result of the inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids.
The signs of heat exhaustion may include heavy sweating, weakness, paleness, dizziness, headache, nausea or vomiting, fainting, muscle cramps, weak pulse, or fast and shallow breathing.
How Can You Help Older Adults Protect Against Heat Stress?
When caring for aging parents or living next door to an elderly couple, you can help them be proactive in the fight against heat stress.
- Visit them regularly to keep watch for signs and symptoms.
- Be sure they are drinking cool, nonalcoholic beverages.
- Help them set up an indoor, air-conditioned environment or take them to air-conditioned locations.
- Suggest lightweight clothing, nonstrenuous activities, and rest during the hottest times of the day.
- Encourage cool showers, baths, or sponge baths.
If you see any signs of heat stress, you may be dealing with a life-threatening emergency. Seek immediate medical assistance and assist the affected person in cooling down until help arrives.
Do you have a parent or aging loved one needing home care in Connecticut or Rhode Island? We can help.