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Safety for Seniors in the Summer Heat

June 03, 2015, 07:02 AM


For seniors, seasonal temperature changes present a slew of potential health hazards. Summertime is especially troublesome as the risk of dehydration, heat stroke, and other heat-related illnesses rises for everybody, but especially those over 65 years old. The CDC reports that more Americans die each year from exposure to extreme heat than natural disasters, with 40% of those deaths occurring in seniors. Taking precautions and keeping cool is the best way to prevent heat stroke, related illnesses, and death from happening.

Image Source (CC BY 2.0) by barkbud via flickr

Heat Stroke & Heat Exhaustion

When your body “overheats” and cannot regulate its temperature, a condition known as heat stroke is happening. Since seniors are more prone to temperature sensitivity and less able to naturally adjust, they are at increased risk for developing heat stroke. Symptoms include:

  • Body temperature of 103⁰ F or higher
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Agitated, confused, or delirious mental state; disorientation
  • Red skin that is hot but dry to the touch (often without sweating)
  • Fainting
  • Headache
  • Muscle cramps
  • Rapid changes in heartbeat

If you suspect your elderly loved one is experiencing heat stroke, contact 911 immediately and try to cool the individual down by moving him/her indoors, removing excess clothing, and dousing him/her with cold water or a cold compress. Heat stroke can result in permanent damage and even death if not treated immediately.

Heat exhaustion typically develops after prolonged exposure to extreme heat, often in a heat wave, and occurs with dehydration. Symptoms include heavy sweating, fatigue, dizziness, low blood pressure, nausea and headache. Seek medical attention if symptoms do not subside after intervention (cooling down) or body temperature reaches 103⁰ F or higher.

Keeping Cool At Home

For seniors living at home, either alone or under the care of an aide, the easiest way to keep the temperature low and cool is with an air conditioning unit. However, keeping the AC blasting all summer can be costly and can make the space uncomfortably cold for seniors who often suffer from poor circulation. Make sure your elderly loved one stays cool and comfortable by:

  • Staying hydrated. Dehydration is the cause of many trips to the hospital for seniors in the summertime. Keep plenty of cold water and caffeine-free and low-sugar beverages handy for consumption, before you feel thirsty. Geriatric doctors also recommend electrolyte infused beverages, like sports drinks, to maintain a healthy balance if you find yourself sweating heavily.
  • Closing windows, blinds and curtains. Ridding a room of sunlight helps lower the temperature, as well as keeping the heat of a particularly scorching summer day outside. Dimming the lights and turning off electronics also helps to reduce the amount of heat circulating indoors.
  • Layering clothing in light fabrics. Because the elderly are more sensitive to temperatures, they are prone to feel colder in cool areas or warmer in room-temperature spaces. Ensure their comfort and ability to easily adapt to their environment by layering breathable, natural fabrics like cotton and linen.
  • Avoiding cooking. Keep the heat out of the kitchen on especially hot days by turning off the stove and oven. Not only will keeping these heat-producing appliances off allow your kitchen to remain cool, it will also keep you from eating hot foods which can increase body heat. Stick with cold-prepared meals like salads, sandwiches, and vegetables. Certain foods, like watermelon, cucumbers, radishes, and pomegranates actually help to reduce body heat and keep you cool from the inside.
  • Seeking shade and avoiding the sun. Especially during peak sun exposure hours, typically 10 am – 4 pm, staying indoors is essential for seniors. When outdoors, try to wear summer-friendly fabrics, wide brimmed hats, stay in the shade, and avoid direct sunlight.
  • Taking cold showers or swimming. You can literally wash off the heat by taking a cool shower, bath, or going for a dip in a pool because bathing in colder water helps lower your body temperature. If you’re unable to swim or bathe with ease, place a cold compress on your forehead or on the back of your head to achieve the same effect.

Ensure Proper Care

Ultimately, many seniors have only a limited capability to care for themselves in certain pivotal areas.  If a senior in your life is struggling managing their body temperature or activities of daily living, call Abcor’s home care experts for a price quote for our services.  They can be as cheap as $17.14 per hour and are available on a part-time, full-time or hourly basis.

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