Heat Stress in Older Adults
Older adults are more prone than younger people to heat related illness because their bodies do not adjust as well to sudden temperature changes. They are also more likely to have medical conditions that change normal body responses to heat, and more likely to take prescription drugs that impair the body’s ability to regulate temperature or inhibit perspiration.
Heat Exhaustion is a mild form of heat-related illness. It can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids. Signs and symptoms include:
· Heavy sweating
· Muscle cramps
· Nausea or vomiting
· Skin may be cool and moist
· Pulse rate: fast and weak
· Breathing: fast and shallow
Heat Stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature. As body temperature rises rapidly, the body loses its ability to sweat or cool down. Signs and symptoms of heat stroke include:
· Extremely high body temperature (above 103 F)
· Red, hot, and dry skin (no sweat)
· Rapid, strong pulse
· Throbbing headache
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests the following steps to stay safe in the summer heat.
· Slow down. Reduce or reschedule strenuous activities.
· Wear loose fitting, light colored clothing.
· Drink plenty of water or cool, non-alcoholic non-caffeinated beverages, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Caffeine and alcohol are mild diuretics, so it’s best to avoid them in hot weather.
· Spend more time in air-conditioned buildings. If you do not have air conditioning, visit a local senior center, library, shopping mall, or designated “cooling center.” There will be announcements on local radio and TV stations if senior centers will be open for extended hours.
· Eat smaller meals more frequently. Don’t leave foods requiring refrigeration out in the heat.
· Take a cool shower, bath or sponge bath.
· When outdoors, find a shady area to rest. Wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat with a brim.
· Ask your doctor or other health professional if the medications you take can increase your susceptibility to heat-related illness.
· Take note of the color of your urine. Brown or dark yellow urine suggests dehydration.
· Check on your senior friends, family, and neighbors. Watch for signs of heat related illness.
· Listen to local news or weather channels for health and safety updates. Beside the forecast temperature, pay attention to the heat index, which factors in the humidity level to get the “real feel” temperature. Sweating is not as effective at cooling you down when the humidity is very high.
· Call 911 if medical attention is needed.