July 10th, 2013 at 10:00 am
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Elders’ health risks soar with temperatures

by Dorian Martin

It’s hot! And the scary part is that it’s only the start of summer. The season’s baking heat can be really dangerous for the elderly. Persons who are 65 years old and above are more likely to develop heat stress than younger people.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists several reasons for the risk to seniors. For example, the elderly often:

  • Can’t adjust easily to sudden temperature change.
  • Are more likely to have a chronic health condition that alters the way the body responds to heat
  • Take prescription medications that can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate its temperature or inhibit perspiration, which is the body’s way of cooling itself

Two types of heat stress

Elders can suffer two different types of heat stress:

  • Heat stroke, which is a serious situation because the body becomes unable to regulate its temperature. Body temperature can increase to 106 degrees Fahrenheit or higher in 10 minutes time. This spike can cause death or permanent disability if treatment is not provided promptly. The warning signs of heat stroke are nausea, dizziness, throbbing headache, rapid and strong pulse, a body temperature above 103 degrees Fahrenheit, and skin that is red, hot and dry.
  • Heat exhaustion, which is milder in nature. This heat-related illness can develop when an elder has spent several days in high temperatures and has not adequately replaced fluids in the body that are lost through perspiration. Warning signs include heavy sweating, paleness, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, muscle cramps, fainting, cool and moist skin, fast and shallow breathing, and fast and weak pulse rate.

Protect seniors from the heat

What can you do to protect the elderly? The CDC offers these tips:

  • Visit elders who are at risk at least twice daily. Look for signs and symptoms of heat stroke or heat exhaustion.
  • Take elders to air-conditioned locations if they are unable to transport themselves.
  • Unless advised otherwise by a doctor, encourage the elders to drink a lot of cool, nonalcoholic beverages regardless of how active they are. However, do make sure that the elder’s doctor does not limit the amount of fluid the elder drinks or is prescribing water pills.

Take care of elders feeling the heat

So what can you do if you believe an elder is becoming severely stressed from the heat? Here are some suggestions:

  • Get them into the shade.
  • Cool them quickly using cold water on the skin.
  • Monitor body temperature and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature is around 102 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Do not give the elder alcohol to drink.
  • Get medical assistance. Call emergency medical personnel or go to an emergency room if you suspect heat stroke.

For other ideas, you can see an article describing the importance of keeping seniors well hydrated in hot temps.

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