Prevent Heat-related Illness This Summer
If you’re hot, think about how your grandparents or elderly neighbors must be feeling.
Individuals who are 65 years of age and older are at a greater risk of suffering from heat stress in the hot weather. That’s because they’re more likely to have a chronic medical condition that changes how the body responds to heat.
“Individuals with health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes or high blood pressure, could get sick or suffer from overheating even if temperatures don’t reach the 90s,” said Jamie Kerr, M.D., vice president and chief medical officer of utilization management, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “Our aging bodies don’t regulate heat as well and we’re often not as aware of increasing temperatures until it’s too late.”
“Anything that hinders our natural cooling system could lead to heat-related illness sooner,” said Kerr. “When the body can’t get rid of excess heat, the organs begin to overheat and not work properly.”
For those individuals caring for a relative or an older adult, Kerr provides a few guidelines to prevent heat-related illnesses:
- Check with the doctor. If possible, check to see if the individual has a condition or takes medication that may influence heat-related illness. Sometimes patients are restricted to how much they can drink and it is important to know of such limitations in warm weather.
- Drink liquids regularly. Depending on what the doctor has prescribed, make sure the person drinks appropriate liquids. Stay away from beverages with a lot of sugar or caffeine. They cause the body to lose more fluid. Do not wait for them to say they are thirsty. By the time they recognize the thirst, they are already fluid deprived. Individuals who are spending any time in the sun should have two to four adequate glasses of cool liquids.
- Rest in a cool Area. Individuals at risk should stay in a cool place and be checked on at least twice a day. Air conditioned areas are the best places to rest. If an air conditioning unit is not in the individual’s home, suggest that the person go to a mall or library. Electric fans are not sufficient as a solitary cooling device and, because they circulate warm air, they should not be relied on in a heat wave.
- Take a cool shower or bath. Taking a shower or bath at room-temperature will allow an individual’s body to cool. Placing a wet towel on their necks or foreheads will also help to regulate body temperature.
- Wear light clothing. Individuals should be dressed in light-weight and light-colored clothing. The clothing should also be loose on one’s skin. If an individual complains of being cool from the air conditioning, offer a long-sleeved shirt.
“Those caring for individuals should watch for complaints of a headache, nausea, fatigue, confusion, cramping, or odd behavior” said Kerr. “These are all signs of a heat-related illness and should be taken seriously.” To alleviate these symptoms, have the individual rest in a cool place where the individual can have small sips of fluid.
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