The dog days of summer — August in New England — can be dangerous for elderly people. Staying out in the hot sun too long can cause several heat-related illnesses, but so can staying inside when it’s hot and stuffy. The most common illnesses caused by hot temperatures are heat stroke and heat exhaustion.
- hot, dry, red skin (no sweating)
- rapid pulse
- high body temperature (≥ 105 F)
- loss of alertness
- rapid and shallow breathing
- unconsciousness or coma
What to do: Call 911 immediately. Cool the person rapidly by moving them to a shady or cooler area; applying cool water or ice to the head, neck, armpits and groin area; fanning; and loosening their clothing.
- heavy sweating
- cold, pale and clammy skin
What to do: Move the person to a cool place, have them drink fluids and rest, loosen their clothes, and cool them off with water or wet cloths. Heat exhaustion can quickly lead to heat stroke. If symptoms worsen or do not improve, get medical help.
Anyone can develop a heat-related illness, but the elderly tend to be more sensitive to the heat and more prone to heat stroke or exhaustion. Risk factors include:
- Being over 50. As we age, our bodies don’t regulate temperature changes as well as they used to.
- Certain medications. They can interfere with how the body responds to heat.
- A chronic health condition, such as heart, kidney or lung disease.
- Being over or under weight.
- Alcohol consumption.
- Living alone.
- Not recognizing or understanding the symptoms of heat stroke or heat exhaustion.
- Worrying about expenses and not turning on air conditioning.
Because of the increased risk, it’s important to check on elderly people when the temperature rises. Sometimes families need extra help with an elderly person still living at home or independently in a senior facility. Home care agencies, including Advantage Home Care, provide an array of caregiving services, such as checking to make sure an individual is safe and taking steps to prevent heat-related problems.
TIPS FOR PREVENTING A HEAT-RELATED ILLNESS
- Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing
- Drink lots of fluids — non-alcoholic
- Check medications — some make you more sensitive to sun and heat
- Never leave an elderly person — or any living creature — in a parked car in hot weather. Ever
- Avoid strenuous activity and don’t go outside during the hottest part of the day
- If you don’t have air conditioning, open windows slightly to allow the air to circulate
- Take a cool bath or put cool cloths on your neck, under your arms, and on your wrists and ankles
- Wear sunscreen if you go outside
- Read and remember the signs I listed at the beginning of this post.
OTHER HEAT-RELATED PROBLEMS
Elderly people are particularly prone to dehydration.
- Dehydration is caused by excessive loss of water and salts from the body due to illness or from prolonged exposure to heat.
- Severe dehydration can easily become a life-threatening condition for infants and the elderly.
- Signs of dehydration include thirst, dry skin, fatigue, light-headedness, confusion, dry mouth, increased heart rate, increased breathing rate, and less frequent urination.
What to do: Move the person to a cool and dry place. Have the person lie down and rest, and drink water, juice, or sports drinks. Monitor carefully.
- Muscle cramps in the abdominal area or arms and legs that are often accompanied by heavy sweating and mild nausea.
What to do: Move the person to a cool place to rest and apply firm pressure to the cramping muscle. Gently stretch the cramped muscle, hold it for 20 seconds and then gently massage it. Have the person drink some cool beverages, such as water or a sports drink. Get medical help if there is no improvement or if the person has underlying medical problems.
- Skin that is red, painful and warm after sun exposure.
What to do: Get medical help if there is fever, fluid-filled blisters or severe pain. Otherwise, apply cold compresses or immerse the burned skin in cool water, apply moisturizing lotion to the burn.
- A rash that looks like a red cluster of pimples or small blisters, usually in the neck and upper chest or in body creases.
What to do: Move the person to a cooler place and keep the affected area dry. Use talcum powder to increase comfort.
DID YOU KNOW?
- It’s a heat wave when it’s 90°F or higher and the relative humidity is 80 percent or higher for more than 48 hours.
- The heat index is how hot it feels. The thermometer may say one thing, but high heat and humidity can raise the heat index by 15°F.
If you know the temperature and relative humidity, you can use the chart below to figure out the heat index.
Do you have any tips for protecting elderly people from the heat? Please share with us.
Origionally posted August 6, 2013