July 14, 2015

Being Safe in Hot Weather

Many people over 65 forget how to take care of themselves during hot weather. This often happens for the older generation that has diabetes. Face it, folks, our bodies just don't adjust as fast as they used to and we need to remember this when the weather warms up. Then add to this the change in humidity and we can really get heated up – literally.

Hyperthermia (being overheated) is serious and is caused by a failure of the heat-regulating mechanisms of the body. Heat fatigue, heat syncope (sudden dizziness after prolonged exposure to the heat), heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke are forms of hyperthermia. If heat stroke is suspected, call 911 and get treatment to save a life. Older adults are at risk for these conditions, and this risk can increase with the combination of higher temperature, individual lifestyle and general health.

Lifestyle factors often are in play for the older adults (and young children). Older adults often do not drink enough fluids, live in housing without air conditioning, and lack mobility and access to transportation. I have found some older adults overdressing for the weather and then not responding to the hot weather by taking coats and sweaters off.

Older people, particularly those with chronic medical conditions, like diabetes, should stay indoors in cooler spaces on hot and humid days, especially when an air pollution alert is in effect. People without air conditioners should go to places that do have air conditioning, such as senior centers, shopping malls, movie theaters and libraries. Cooling centers, which may be set up by local public health agencies, religious groups, and social service organizations in many communities, are another option.

Factors that increase the risk of hyperthermia may include:
  1. Dehydration.
  2. High blood pressure or other health conditions that require changes in diet. For example, people on salt-restricted diets may be at increased risk. However, salt pills should not be used without first consulting a doctor.
  3. Heart, lung and kidney diseases, as well as any illness that causes general weakness or fever.
  4. Use of multiple medications. It is important, however, to continue to take prescribed medication and discuss possible problems with a physician.
  5. Reduced sweating, caused by medications such as diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers and certain heart and blood pressure drugs.
  6. Age-related changes to the skin such as poor blood circulation and inefficient sweat glands.
  7. Being substantially overweight or underweight.
  8. Alcohol use.

Heat stroke is a life-threatening form of hyperthermia. It occurs when the body is overwhelmed by heat and unable to control its temperature. Signs and symptoms of heat stroke include a significant increase in body temperature (generally above 104 degrees Fahrenheit), changes in mental status (like confusion or combativeness), strong rapid pulse, lack of sweating, dry flushed skin, feeling faint, staggering or coma. Seek immediate emergency medical attention for a person with heat stroke symptoms, especially an older adult.

If you suspect that someone is suffering from a heat-related illness:
  1. Get the person out of the heat and into a shady, air-conditioned or other cool place. Urge them to lie down.
  2. If you suspect heat stroke, call 911.
  3. Encourage the individual to shower, bathe or sponge off with cool water if it is safe to do so.
  4. Apply a cold, wet cloth to the wrists, neck, armpits, and/or groin. These are places where blood passes close to the surface of the skin, and the cold cloths can help cool the blood.
  5. If the person can swallow safely, offer fluids such as water, fruit and vegetable juices. Avoid alcohol and caffeine.

As a reminder read this blog if you have diabetes.

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