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Keep the Elderly Safe in the Heat

With summer temperatures again on the rise, the risk of overexertion poses a problem for everyone, but senior citizens are especially vulnerable to heat.

As people get older, their natural defenses begin to break down, leaving people age 65 and older more likely to develop heat stress. Seniors are also more likely to have a chronic medical condition that changes normal body responses to heat and are more likely to take prescription medications that affect the body’s ability to control its temperature or sweat.

“Our bodies lose some natural ability to regulate temperature as we age—making it more difficult to feel the heat quite like younger people do,” said Richard J. Wyderski, M.D., assistant professor of hospital medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. “Someone with dementia or diabetes may not even be aware of being thirsty or feeling overheated,” said Wyderski.

Heat-related illnesses can include heat exhaustion and heat stroke. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms of heat exhaustion can include: heavy sweating; cold, pale and clammy skin; fast, weak pulse; muscle cramps; feeling tired or weak or vomiting. If not treated, heat exhaustion may lead to heat stroke.

Warning signs of a heat stroke can include: high body temperature (103°F or higher); hot, red, dry, or damp skin; a fast and strong pulse; and confusion. Headaches, dizziness and nausea are also indicators of heat-related illnesses. Heat strokes can be fatal if not recognized and treated in time.

Wyderski and the CDC recommend the followingtips to help prevent heat-related illnesses in the elderly:

  • Stay in air-conditioned buildings as much as possible—don’t rely on fans as a main cooling source when there’s extreme heat.
  • Drink more water or sports drinks than usual—avoid caffeine and alcohol and don’t wait until thirst settles in to hydrate.
  • Avoid using the stove or oven to cook.
  • Wear loose, lightweight and light-colored clothing.
  • Take cool showers or baths to cool down.
  • Do not engage in very strenuous activities and get plenty of rest.

“If you have an older relative or neighbor, it’s important to keep in frequent touch with them during such warm weather,” said Wyderski. “Keeping in mind that someone may not even be aware of feeling hot or thirsty, it's very important for others to monitor the health and well-being of loved ones and friends.”

 

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Last Updated: 08-18-2017
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