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Keeping Seniors Safe During Hot Weather

Tips on keeping seniors safe during the hot weather.

The risk of heat-related problems increases with age.

Hyperthermia is the name given to a variety of heat-related illnesses that can include heat stroke, heat fatigue, heat syncope (sudden dizziness after exercising in the heat), heat cramps and heat exhaustion.

Older adults are particularly at risk for developing heat-related illness because the body's ability to adequately respond to summer heat can become less efficient with age. The National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has some advice for helping older people avoid heat problems during the summer months.

A person's risk for hyperthermia is not based only on the outside temperature — it includes the general health and lifestyle of the individual.

Health factors that may increase risk include:

• Age-related changes to the skin, such as poor blood circulation and inefficient sweat glands;
• Heart, lung and kidney diseases, as well as any illness that causes general weakness or fever;
• High blood pressure or other conditions that require changes in diet (for example, a salt-restricted diet);
• The inability to perspire, caused by medications including diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers and certain heart and blood pressure drugs;
• Taking several drugs for various conditions (note: it is important to continue to take prescribed medication and discuss possible problems with a physician);
• Being substantially overweight or underweight;
• Drinking alcoholic beverages; and,
• Being dehydrated.

Lifestyle factors can also increase risk, including extremely hot living quarters, lack of transportation, overdressing, visiting overcrowded places and not understanding weather conditions. Older people, particularly those at special risk, should stay indoors on particularly hot and humid days, especially when there is an air pollution alert in effect.

People without fans or air conditioners should go to places such as shopping malls, movie theaters and libraries. Friends or relatives might be asked to supply transportation on particularly hot days. Many communities, social service agencies, religious groups and senior citizen centers also provide services such as cooling centers.

Heat stroke is an advanced form of hyperthermia that occurs when the body is overwhelmed by heat and unable to control its temperature. As a person's body temperature rises rapidly, the body loses its ability to sweat and cool itself down. Heat stroke is especially dangerous for older people and requires emergency medical attention.

A person with a body temperature above 104 is likely suffering from heat stroke and may have symptoms of confusion, combativeness, strong rapid pulse, lack of sweating, dry flushed skin, faintness, staggering, possible delirium or coma. A person with any of these symptoms, especially an older adult, should seek immediate medical attention.

Here are five tips on what to do if you suspect someone is suffering from a heat-related illness:

1. Get the person out of the sun and into an air-conditioned or other cool place.
2. Offer fluids such as water, fruit and vegetable juices, but avoid alcohol and caffeine.
3. Encourage the individual to shower, bathe or sponge off with cool water.
4. Apply a cold, wet cloth to the wrists and/or neck, places where arterial blood passes close to the surface and the cold cloths can help cool the blood.
5. Urge the person to lie down and rest, preferably in a cool place.
Source: National Institute on Aging 

If you are a caregiver and would like to learn more about home care services, please visit the website of the Coalition on Family Caregiving at www.cfcares.org. The Coalition on Family Caregiving, formed in 2003, is a group of community-based organizations, businesses and individuals whose mission is to assist family caregivers by offering support, education and information on resources and services.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

KC July 28, 2012 at 05:07 AM
Tea is not such a good idea Hank in the hot weather. The caffeine is a diuretic and could further dehydrate. Lemonade or bubbly flavored waters might be a better option.
KC July 28, 2012 at 05:10 AM
Sounds like fun lol, where is it please? What time is happy hour? I used to sometimes see the old timers coming into Petersons at lunch time with walkers. They would consume real old school beverages like Manhattans. I used to get such a kick out of seeing that. If they made it to that age, they did something right. : )
Janet Kuebler July 31, 2012 at 11:14 PM
Jackie, you are welcome.
Janet Kuebler July 31, 2012 at 11:18 PM
Hank, thank you. You can also recommend hydrating fruits like watermelon. A lot of fruits have a high water content, plus are a great source of vitamins and minerals.
Betty Ann August 13, 2012 at 05:21 PM
Thanks for this great posting. It would also help if their younger family members check on them once in awhile. A phone call would help too.

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