With the summer months coming and the temperatures starting to rise, seniors and the elderly need to protect themselves from the heat. The warm weather can help improve many seniors' daily outlook on life as the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder go dormant. If you think your loved one may have Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, check out our episode on SAD, Are You Sad? for more information on what SAD is, how it affects seniors, and ways you can help your loved one overcome it.
The long summer months are something most of us look forward to throughout the winter. It is important for seniors to take the necessary precautions when spending time outside in the heat and in the sun. Seniors without air-conditioning are at the highest risk of extreme heat. Without being able to cool off inside, they can easily overheat and suffer from a number of heat-related illnesses and even death. If you know a senior that doesn’t have air-conditioning, and can’t afford one, the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) helps adults 65 and older who have limited incomes cover the cost of air conditioners and utility bills. You can call the National Energy Assistance Referral hotline at 1-866-674-6327 for more information on this program.
One of the ways our bodies regulate temperature is through sweating. However, adults 65 and older don’t sweat nearly as much as younger adults do and are unable to regulate their body temperature through this way, which is why the heat is more dangerous for older adults. From 1999-2009, 40 percent of heat-related deaths occurred in seniors. We hope today’s episode can help lower that number in the future. Heat-related illnesses are preventable if you know the facts ahead of time.
What can seniors do to protect themselves from the heat? Stay cool and stay hydrated. Seniors need to drink plenty of water to combat extreme heat. Older adults shouldn’t wait until they’re thirsty to drink water. If you have medication that requires you to drink less water, talk to your doctor to find out how much water they recommend you drink daily. If you need to cool down quickly, take a cool shower or bath. If you are having trouble overheating and are still feeling the effects of the heat an hour after finding a cool place to rest, please call your doctor.
Older adults should wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing that isn’t restrictive when outside. Wearing long sleeves and hats can also prevent painful sunburns. Try to limit outdoor and strenuous activities to early morning and or evening when the sun doesn’t pose as much risk and it is cooler out. Make sure seniors are getting plenty of rest during warm weather, too. The heat makes us tired and it’s important to listen to what our bodies need. As the caregiver, you may be the one to notice when your loved one needs to rest or needs to hydrate if they are unable to recognize it for themselves. You also want to make sure to never leave an older adult in a shut-off vehicle without the windows down, even if you’re just running into the post office to drop off an envelope. The effects of the heat can happen fast and if your loved one has any chronic medical conditions, it can quickly become deadly.
Dr. Michael Fitch, M.D., professor of emergency medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center says “If you have an older relative or neighbor, it’s important to keep in frequent touch with them during times of hot weather. Keeping in mind that someone may not even be aware of feeling hot or thirsty, it is very important for others to check on the health and well-being of loved ones and friends.”
Now that you know the dangers of extreme heat, we’re going to move on to the three major heat-related syndromes and what you can do to protect your loved one and prevent heat-related sickness. The first, heat cramps, is a condition that involves muscle spasms and pain. It typically occurs during or after strenuous activities, but it commonly occurs in older adults due to dehydration. Making sure the senior is drinking plenty of water is the most important thing you can do to prevent dehydration. If they have trouble drinking water, try giving them foods with high water content, like watermelon, cantaloupe, citrus fruits, tomatoes, cucumbers, and celery. If they become dehydrated and are unable to properly hydrate themselves, they may need IV fluids.
Heat exhaustion is the second heat syndrome. The National Institute on Aging states that heat exhaustion is a warning that your body can no longer keep itself cool. You might feel thirsty, dizzy, weak, uncoordinated, and nauseated. You may sweat a lot. Your body temperature may stay normal, but your skin may feel cold and clammy. Some people with heat exhaustion have a rapid pulse.
If you notice your loved one experiencing heat exhaustion, get them to a cool place immediately and try to hydrate them. If they have high blood pressure or heart problems, call 911 as soon as possible. Also, call 911 if they don’t recover quickly after getting them in a cool area and water. If not taken care of, heat exhaustion can quickly become heatstroke.
Heatstroke can occur anywhere from 15 minutes to several days after being exposed to extreme heat. Heatstroke happens when the body heats up faster than it can cool off. The National Institute on Aging lists the signs of heatstroke as fainting or becoming unconscious, a change in behavior, such as confusion, agitation, staggering, being grouchy, or acting strangely, a temperature over 104°F (40°C), dry, flushed skin and a strong, rapid pulse or a slow, weak pulse, and not sweating even if it is hot. Seek medical help immediately if you think your loved one is experiencing heatstroke.
Extreme heat can be dangerous, but as long as you take the right precautions and recognize when your body has had enough, it is easy to prevent any ill effects of heat. We hope that having the tips and information to help avoid potential heat strokes, dehydration, and other health risks can be helpful to you and your loved one and can help seniors and the elderly to enjoy summer and the warmer weather safely.
We want to thank you for joining us here at All Home Care Matters, All Home Care Matters is here for you and to help families as they navigate long-term care issues. Please visit us at allhomecarematters.com there is a private secure fillable form there where you can give us feedback, show ideas, or if you have questions. Every form is read and responded to. If you know someone is who could benefit from this episode and please make sure to share it with them.
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