Each year as the temperature rises, about 400 Americans succumb to heat-related deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 40% of those deaths occur in people over 65 and nearly 67% are men across all age groups. Why are the elderly more susceptible to the heat?
There are several reasons that explain this, which seniors and anyone taking care of an older person should keep in mind.
- One reason is that the medications that many seniors take, such as cardiovascular drugs, diuretics, hypertension, and Parkinson’s disease drugs affect how the body responds to heat. In younger people, the body produces enough sweat to help cool down enough to handle the heat. Medications, along with obesity, diabetes, dementia, and other conditions that often plague the elderly, prevent the body from doing this.
- This ineffective sweat mechanism is often complicated by dehydration. Many times, seniors may take diuretics to remove fluid from the body or may not drink enough water. Especially in the heat, fluids are necessary to keep the kidneys and circulatory system performing right and prevent lightheadedness or the racing heart that results when the heart pumps against the smaller volume of blood. People over 50 often do not recognize that they are thirsty.
- Rather than drinking water to replenish the supply, seniors may drink sweet, caffeinated, or alcoholic drinks. While these feel refreshing, caffeine and alcohol dehydrate the body, while the sugar content can throw off the blood count and aggravate conditions such as diabetes.
The Worst Case Scenarios In Hot Weather
When the body overheats, the result can be heat exhaustion followed by heat stroke, which can be fatal. Heat exhaustion is characterized by dizziness or fainting, nausea, sweating, rapid weak pulse, fatigue, headache, cramps, and cool, moist, pale skin. Often, heat exhaustion can be overcome by a getting into an air-conditioned location, sponging or spraying them with water, and hydrating with cool water while waiting for medical assistance.
If not reversed in time, a high body temperature over 103 degrees Fahrenheit, a rapid strong pulse, throbbing headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion, red, hot, dry skin without sweating, and unconsciousness can indicate heat stroke. Immediate medical attention is crucial, as the combination of high body temperature and heat stroke is potentially fatal.
Preventing Heat-Related Problems
To combat the possibility of heat exhaustion or heatstroke, seniors should take several steps to protect themselves.
- Air-conditioning is the best protection against heat-related problems. Unfortunately, some vulnerable people don’t have access to air-conditioning or don’t like to use it because of the cost. In those cases, a two or three hour trip to a mall or other air-conditioned site can be lifesaver on hot days.
- Drinking plenty of water is imperative in hot weather, especially for those on medications. Aside from drinking water, seniors can benefit by eating sugar-free Popsicles, which have a high water content and low sugar content, or even fruit such as watermelon, cantaloupe, or apples, which are also full of fluid.
- Dressing in cool, loose-fitting clothing made of fabric that breathes is ideal summer attire. A floppy hat that shades the face without trapping heat completes the ensemble.
- To make up for a senior’s less effective ventilation system in the body, a spray bottle full of water can be a handy to cool down tool. Placing cool cloths under the armpits and around the neck also aids cooling. These are also handy techniques to provide relief to a person in heat exhaustion.
- Senior living by themselves should have someone checking on them to make sure they have not succumbed to the heat.
Long distance family members can log onto weather websites and monitor the heat indexes and then encourage their loved one to take appropriate actions such as making early morning appointments, going to a cooling center such as a senior center or public library. Local news channels will make public health announcements and the opening of public buildings as cooling centers.
Quality Home Healthcare Services In New York
At SelectCare of New York, we are happy to provide this information to you as a public service to help the population we love serving. If you are looking for home healthcare services in New York? Contact us today for a free assessment of your in-home care needs or to arrange service. Just use the contact form on our website or call us at 212-505-3640 for Complementary in-home care needs assessment.