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
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
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
- Wear loose, lightweight and light-colored
- Take cool showers or baths to
- 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.”