According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 400 people die every year in the U.S. from heat exhaustion or heat stroke. These deaths do not need to happen.
Seniors are especially vulnerable to heat-related illnesses because their bodies don’t adjust as well to sudden changes in temperatures, they could have chronic medical condition that alters how a body normally responds to heat, and they may take prescription medications that can hinder or change how the body regulates its temperature or do the same thing with perspiration.
Heat exhaustion, and the more severe heat stroke, can happen if a person gets very dehydrated due to heat. When a person suffers from heat stroke, the body temperature can spike very quickly and it loses its ability to cool off. This can be deadly or cause a permanent disability if it happens.
How to Handle the Heat
There are steps that can prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke. The biggest is to keep the fluids coming. It’s recommended that seniors drink cool, non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated beverages. A beer or a soda can actually increase dehydration and make things worse. Doctors can limit how much some older people can drink, or they may take water pills. If that happens, the CDC recommends you ask a doctor how much is safe to drink when the weather gets hot.
If a person is struggling with hot weather, it’s also not a good idea to give them a really cold drink because that can cause stomach cramps and make them not want to keep drinking.
The CDC says people should drink water throughout the day when it’s hot, even if they don’t feel thirsty. If a person gets thirsty, they are already dehydrated and we want to stop it before it starts. An older person with dementia may not be able to think through this reasoning themselves, so it’s OK for you to help them.
Some medications make people more vulnerable, or can mask the symptoms, so be aware of your status and ask your doctor about those possible side effects.
Make sure a senior dealing with hot weather rests often. Sometimes being a couch potato isn’t such a bad thing.
Also, a senior should wear light-weight clothing and try to get in an air-conditioned area. If they don’t have any air conditioning at home – head to a public shopping mall or a library to cool down.
Look for any way possible to cool off. Something as simple as an electric fan can make a big difference.
If an elderly person does start to show signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, make sure you get them help quickly. These things can go downhill rapidly.
While you wait for a medical professional, the CDC recommends these steps:
- Get the person to a shady area.
- Cool them down quickly – this could mean putting them in a tub of cool water, putting them in a cool shower, spraying them with a garden hose or sponging them with a cool, wet cloth. If you are in a place with low humidity, you can wrap them in a cool, wet sheet and fan them.
- Monitor their body temperature. You need to get it below 101°–102°F.
- Ask for help. Don’t hesitate to call 911. A 911 dispatcher may know more than you do and a paramedic certainly will.
For more information, visit the CDC’s website:http://www.cdc.gov/.