Nobody is really comfortable in hot weather, but older people are at greater risk than most when it comes to surviving a heat wave.
High temperatures occur every summer.
Some years seem hotter than others.
Orlando Florida’s electric utility company reported in early July that they had set an all time record for electricity use. Air conditioners were cranked up to high due to unusually high temperatures
Extreme heat generally refers to when the temperature rises to near 100 and stays there for several days.
Those living in arid climates such as Arizona, are more accustomed to 100+ degree heat. The lower humidity levels allow the heat to be more tolerable. While discomfort may not be as extreme, the health risks for seniors are just as real.
When it comes to the risks of extreme heat, older people have the greatest risk. There are several reasons.
Why Are Seniors At Higher Risk
According to some health experts
Seniors are more susceptible to dehydration due to diminished thirst. Taking in less fluids during normal weather is not a problem. In periods of high heat, the body can stress quickly due to lack of fluids.
Additionally, seniors do not perspire as much as they once did. A couple of things happen. They are not as aware of the heat, and the lack of perspiration lessens the process of body cooling. We all know the purpose of perspiration is the evaporation process of the sweat allowing for natural body cooling.
Some seniors are not as aware of high temperatures as younger people. They simply do not feel the heat. It is not uncommon during periods of high heat, to see seniors dressed in warm or heavy clothing.
Because they do not feel the heat does not lessen the risks. High body temperatures are dangerous for everybody.
A case study from Chicago sited a women who spent most of her time in her unairconditioned room during a heat wave. She kept the window closed. She did not have a fan.
When found unconscious, paramedics began treatment and transported her to the hospital. She died in the ER. Her body temperature was recorded to be 108 degrees.
What Are The Warning Signs Of Heat Stress
Senior or a caregiver
Being aware of these symptoms of heat stress can help.
- Some forms of heat stress may begin with headaches, fatigue and nausea.
- Feeling faint, with cool moist skin and a weak pulse are symptoms of heat syncope, a mild form of heat stroke.
- Cramping or spasms of the legs, arms or abdomen. Usually after exercise.
- Heat exhaustion. A warning of an over heating body. Nausea, dizziness, heavy sweating, and confusion. Symptoms of heat syncope may be present. Vomiting is also possible.
- Heat stroke is the most serious and can be life threatening. The body temperature rises above 100 degrees. The person will be dizzy, faint, confused, They may become angry or combative. They may be unsteady or staggering. They may have dry, hot skin. They will be flushed with rapid, shallow breathing. Heat stroke can result in seizures, convulsions and death.
What To Do
Treatment for heat stress or stroke must be quick.
- It should include, moving to a cool place even if it only means moving into the shade.
- Lay down and raise the feet.
- Apply wet cloths or water to the skin. The best places to treat are the head, groin and armpits. These are areas of high blood flow and cooling the blood is vital.
- Fan the patient either with a fan or by hand.
- Administer small amounts of water.
As with all medical emergencies, call 9-1-1 to get medical help.
What Actions To Take
The to do list for seniors is short and simple.
Prevention of heat related issues is always easier than treatment.
- Refrain from physical activity during times of high heat.
- Wear loose fitting clothing.
- Attempt to stay in air conditioned facilities.
- If air conditioning is not available, use fans. Moving air has a cooling effect.
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water. Be aware of the dangers of Gatorade or other sport drinks. They can be dangerous in large quantities.
Consider Other Health Conditions
There are health conditions common with seniors
They need to be considered as they relate to high summer temperatures.
People with breathing difficulties such as COPD, asthma and allergies are at increased risk during heat waves.
Some medications can increase medical issues during high temperatures. Included in the list of medicines requiring added caution are antihistamines, diuretics, benzodiazepines, tricyclic antidepressants, Laxatives and beta-blockers.
What Are The Statistics
From the CDC
As we can see in the graphic from the Center for Disease Control, (CDC), men are more apt to suffer from excess heat than women. The chart does not segregate by age.
Contributing to the disparity between male and female goes to exposure. Men are more likely to be outdoors, often in job related activity.
The point remains however, heat is a dangerous condition and seniors are at a higher risk than any other age groups other than infants.
Another statistic from the CDC indicated that seniors are at the highest risk while in their home. Lack of air conditioning is an important contributor.
Finally, GlobalChange.gov holds the position that climate change will only increase the risks of death due to higher temperatures. While average temperatures have only risen 1.3 degrees since 1895, the blame of seemingly increasing heat waves is laid at the feet of increased greenhouse gases.
If temperatures are to rise do to man made pollutants, the citizens need to take precautions to protect themselves from heat related health issues.
For seniors, the point continues to be, seniors must know and understand how to survive a heat wave. That same knowledge should be a part of the possess for caregivers as well.
If you have questions or comments, I would like to have that conversation. Drop a note in the comments section below.