Seniors and Extreme Heat: A Dangerous Combination

By admin
July 07, 2019

As we age, our ability to adequately respond to summer heat can become a serious problem. Older people are at significantly greater risk of heat-related illnesses, known collectively as hyperthermia, during the summer months. Hyperthermia can include heat stroke, heat edema (swelling in your ankles and feet when you get hot), heat syncope (sudden dizziness after exercising in the heat), heat cramps, and heat exhaustion.

Each year nearly 600 Americans die from extreme temperatures, most of them elderly people.

Experts at the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, say knowing which health-related factors may increase risk could save a life. Those factors 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, such as salt-restricted diets
  • Reduced sweating, caused by medications such as diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers, and certain heart and blood pressure drugs
  • Taking several drugs for various conditions (It is important, however, to continue to take prescribed medication and discuss possible problems with a physician.)
  • Being substantially overweight or underweight
  • Drinking alcoholic beverages
  • Being dehydrated

Lifestyle factors can also increase risk, including extremely hot living quarters, lack of transportation, overdressing, visiting overcrowded places, and not understanding how to respond to weather conditions.

Seniors often don’t realize when they are overheated, dehydrated and in danger.

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. To stay cool, drink plenty of fluids and wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothes in natural fabrics. People without fans or air conditioners should keep their homes as cool as possible or go someplace cool. Senior centers, religious groups, and social service organizations in many communities provide cooling centers when the temperatures rise. Or visit public air-conditioned places such as shopping malls, movie theaters, or libraries.

If you suspect that someone is suffering from a heat-related illness:

  • Call 911 if you suspect heat stroke.
  • Get the person out of the heat and into a shady, air-conditioned or other cool place. Urge them to lie down.
  • If the person can swallow safely, offer fluids such as water and fruit or vegetable juices, but not alcohol or caffeine.
  • Apply a cold, wet cloth to the wrists, neck, armpits, and groin. These are places where blood passes close to the surface of the skin, and a cold cloth can help cool the blood.
  • Encourage the person to shower, bathe, or sponge off with cool water if it is safe to do so.

During hot weather, if you know someone who lives alone and may not have the resources to keep their homes cool, consider making daily visits to make sure they are not struggling with heat-related concerns and if necessary take them somewhere cool. The temperature inside or outside does not have to reach 1000 F to put them at risk. If they are having a hard time paying for home cooling costs, there are some resources that might help. Contact the National Energy Assistance Referral at energyassistance@ncat.org, your local senior center, or social service agency.

To learn more, go to Hot Weather Safety for Older Adults. Free publications on hot weather safety and other healthy aging topics in English and Spanish are available from the NIA website or by calling NIA’s toll-free number: 1-800-222-2225.

Source: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, National Institutes of Health.

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