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The Effects of Heat on Seniors

Sunny days uplift spirits, yet seniors need to take special precautions to make sure their enjoyment of summer is not eclipsed by dehydration and heat illness.

Physical changes that come with aging make older adults more vulnerable to summer’s heat and humidity. The American Geriatrics Society’s Foundation for Health in Aging (FHIA) reports that most of the 200 Americans who die each summer of heat-related complications are over 50. FHIA warns that temperatures in the low 90s can be very dangerous to seniors.

Seniors become less sensitive to heat and the feeling of thirst as they age. In addition, certain medical conditions, such as heart disease, and medications commonly taken by seniors – water pills, allergy and sinus medications, and antidepressants further increase the risk. Older citizens are more vulnerable than younger individuals because they do not adjust as well to the heat, they perspire less, and they are more likely to have health problems that require medicines that work against the body’s natural thermometer. A sudden or prolonged increase in temperatures can place a strain on the heart and blood vessels before the body can acclimate itself.

Recommendations include:

• Turn on the air conditioner or go to an air-conditioned place – senior center, mall, movie theater, or library, for example. Fans are not sufficient.

• Stay indoors during excessive heat, and when outside, avoid the sun as much as possible, wear hats and sunglasses.

• Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.

• Avoid strenuous activity.• Take cool showers, baths, or sponge baths.

Use the urine test to confirm whether you or a loved one is drinking enough. Light yellow urine is usually a sign that liquid consumption is adequate, while darker urine may signal that more liquid is needed.

Beware of Heat Illnesses

Overexposure to the heat can lead to a variety of serious health problems. The Mayo Clinic states that:

• Heat exhaustion is a warning that your body cannot cool itself. Symptoms include thirst, dizziness, weakness, poor coordination, nausea and sweating. Body temperature stays normal, but the skin feels cold and clammy and pulse can be normal or raised. If this is the case, rest in a cool place, drink plenty of fluids and take a cool shower or sponge bath. This condition can turn into heatstroke, so if you do not feel better quickly, seek medical care right away.

• Heatstroke is life threatening and requires emergency medical help. After calling 911, get the individual to a cool place. Signs of heatstroke include fainting, body temperature above 104° F, confusion, irritableness, staggering, dry, flushed skin, strong, rapid pulse or slow, weak pulse, not sweating, acting delirious or being in a coma.

FHIA also recommends that family members or friends check on seniors at least twice a day during a heat wave. Family and professional caregivers can make a special effort to help seniors get enough to drink, as the need for water and non-alcoholic and decaffeinated beverages rises with the temperature. This includes keeping a good variety of beverages on hand and encouraging frequent drinking of smaller quantities, as opposed to less frequent drinking of larger quantities. FBN

About Comfort Keepers

Cindy Harris is the owner of Comfort Keepers. With over 560 independently owned and operated locations, Comfort Keepers is a leader in in-home senior care to promote independent living. 928-774-0888, 214 N. Sitgreaves St., Flagstaff, AZ.

 

 

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