It’s heating up now that summer is almost here. As the heat rises, so does the risk of heat stroke, especially for the elderly. As we get older, our bodies begin to lose their ability to regulate body temperature, causing seniors to overheat without realizing it. They may feel cold even at times when heat is unbearable. Seniors are also more at risk for dehydration because they may be on medications that speed up water loss.
1) Get air flowing – Circulate air through the house by opening windows and getting cross breezes flowing through. Set up fans in the house. If you are too cold with the air conditioning on, try opening all the windows and turn the house fan on (flip the A/C fan on without turning the A/C on). Always keep the windows open or the air conditioning on when leaving a senior in the car.
2) Take precautions when going outdoors – When outdoors on sunny, hot days, make sure seniors wear natural fabrics, like cotton, and dress in light colors. Keep them in the shade as much as possible. Avoid going outside during the peak times of day. Instead run errands and do things like gardening in the early morning. Wear hats, sunglasses and sunscreen.
3) Always stay hydrated – Drinking water is extremely important for seniors because they tend to lose fluids faster than others. Eating a lot of water-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, can help as well. Increase the amount of water you drink by at least 2 glasses per day on hot days.
4) Get into the water – Swimming and doing pool exercises is the perfect way for seniors to stay cool in the heat. Don’t have access to a pool? Try a cool bath, shower or sponge bath.
5) Be careful when mixing medications and heat – Some medications, like antidepressants, anti-psychotics, diuretics, sedatives, over-the-counter sleeping pills, and some heart and blood pressure medications can affect the body’s ability to regulate temperature and perspire. In addition, some medications have negative side effects when there is excessive exposure to the sun or heat.
6) Know what heat exhaustion looks like – People who are starting to experience heat stroke often feel fatigued, nauseous, dizzy and they may have headaches, flushing in the face, high body temperature, rapid pulse and confusion. Heat exhaustion is more subtle and symptoms can include excessive sweating, paleness, weakness, dizziness, fatigue, muscle cramps, headaches, nausea, shallow breathing, and a fast or weak pulse.
7) Avoid caffeine and alcohol – Drinks that contains caffeine or alcohol, including soda, coffee and tea, can speed up the dehydration process.
8) Stay in the air conditioning – On really hot days, the only way to stay cold is to be in the air conditioning. If your home is not air conditioned, go to a place that is. Call for accompaniment transportation if you personally cannot be there to take your relative out.
9) Keep tabs on the seniors in your life – Visit seniors several times per day to ensure they are not showing signs of heat-related conditions. If that isn’t feasible for you, home care services can literally be a life savor.
10) Give extra monitoring to those with Alzheimer’s and dementia – Seniors who have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia often need consistent monitoring because they can often become confused by their body temperature and/or they may not be able to communicate any discomfort they have.