Keeping Cool: Ways to Avoid Heat Stroke
The Dog Days of Summer are here, and that means the risks for heat exhaustion and heat stroke are rising, along with the temperature, with seniors particularly at risk.
Older folks don’t adjust as well to changes in temperatures as younger people do, making them prime targets for life-threatening heat-related ailments.
They are more likely to have health conditions and require Rx medicine that interferes with the body’s ability to control temperatures and sweat.
Engaging in strenuous activity for long periods in a hot environment may result in exertional heatstroke for younger people. Seniors are more susceptible to nonexertional heatstroke, particularly sedentary elderly people or those who are chronically ill.
“A high percentage of older patients develop heatstroke while going about their daily life, and the factors behind this are also unique to older adults,” says a healthcare and geriatrics specialist at the Graduate School of Medicine at Nagoya University in Japan.
“In terms of environment, heatstroke amongst older adults is characterized by many patients developing the condition in their homes rather than outdoors, in contrast to young people,” the doctor wrote in the Japan Medical Association Journal.
Older adults have reduced body fluid volume, skin temperature-sensitivity, sweating, and thirst sensitivity, increasing their risk of heatstroke. Research indicates severe cases of heatstroke increase with age with the peak age groups for heatstroke death being between ages 75 and 89 anni.
Heat exhaustion occurs when the body gets too hot and can lead to heatstroke, which may result in shock, organ or brain damage, and even death.
Heat exhaustion may trigger the following symptoms:
- Heavy sweating
- Weakness or confusion
- Muscle cramps
- Pale or Cold skin
- Nausea or Vomiting
- Rapid heartbeat
- Dark-colored urine resulting from dehydration
Warning signs of heatstroke include the following:
- Body temperature above 104 degrees
- Not sweating, even when it is hot
- Heavy breathing or rapid pulse
- Dry, flushed skin
The good news is there are steps you can take to reduce the risk.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer advice on staying cool and hydrated during hot, Summer days, it is as follows:
Keep cool: When staying in a house or apartment, it is important to keep the home as cool as possible, notes Dr. Calvin Hirsch, a geriatrics specialist with the University of California-Davis Health System. But don’t rely on fans as a main cooling source when it is real hot.
Seek refuge: If the home is not cool enough, go to movie theaters, shopping malls, libraries or other air-conditioned places as much as you can. Shopping malls allow you to get some exercise without exhaustion. On especially hot days, if you do not have a home AC, you can also contact your local health department to find an air-conditioned shelter near you.
Stay hydrated: Do not wait until you are thirsty to drink. Drink more water than you usually do. If you are limited to the amount of fluids you should drink because of medication or water pills, ask your doctor how much you can drink during hot weather.
Eat out: Avoid using the stove or oven to cook in hot weather because it can make your home hotter.
Take cold showers: Turn the temperature down in the shower and use cool water or bathe in a tub of lukewarm water to chill out. You can also rub wet washcloths over the face, back of the neck, and wrists to lower your body temperature.
Do not over dress: Wear loose, lightweight, and light-colored clothing.
Go easy on the exercise: It is a good idea to avoid strenuous activities, and rest as much as possible, on especially hot days.
Experts say it’s also a good idea to keep emergency phone numbers available somewhere that is easy to access. Stay in touch with relatives, friends, and neighbors. Have their contact information ready in case you need assistance.
Vacuuming or changing air filters in air conditioners improves cooling. Using shades or drapes helps keep the heat out. Outside awnings help too. To reflect light and heat away from the home, Hirsch also recommends covering pieces of cardboard with aluminum foil on one side and placing it on the windows, outside, facing out.
Relatives, neighbors, and friends of the elderly should stay in touch with them during times of heat waves.
The warning signs of heatstroke can develop quickly and some seniors may not even notice they are feeling hot or thirsty.
If not recognized or treated in time, heatstroke may become fatal. When cooling-off methods do not appear to be helping to reduce symptoms, do not hesitate to call for medical help or have someone take you to the ER (emergency room).
Have a terrific holiday weekend