The recent heat wave and humid conditions are hard on everyone, but it’s especially taxing on our senior citizens, cautions Sandhills Regional Medical Center’s ER Extra.
“After age 65, your body can’t adjust to changes in air temperature - especially heat - as quickly as it did when you were younger,” says Dr. John Keku, emergency room medical director at Sandhills Regional Medical Center. “That puts you at risk for heat-related illnesses.”
Senior citizens also are at greater risk for heat-related illnesses because they may have a chronic health condition or take certain medications that interfere with normal body response to heat, Keku said. Some medications also restrict the body’s ability to perspire.
Fortunately, our aging population can enjoy a safe summer by taking a few precautions when it gets hot.
Unless you are on a “water pill” and your doctor has told you to limit your fluids, drink plenty of cool liquids, such as water or fruit and vegetable juices, Keku said. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty; and do not drink alcohol because you’ll lose much of the fluid it offers.
Ways to keep cool
ER Extra recommends these tips to keep cool, especially if you don’t have air conditioning, from the National Institute on Aging (NIA):
- Open your windows at night;
- Create a cross breeze by opening windows on opposite sides of the room or house;
- Cover windows when they’re in direct sunlight, and keep curtains, shades, or blinds drawn during the hottest part of the day;
- Dampen your clothing with water and sit in the breeze from a fan;
- Spend at least two hours a day (the hottest part, if possible) in an air-conditioned place, such as a library, senior center, or friend’s house;
- Ask a friend or relative to drive you to a cool place on very hot days if you don’t drive;
- Take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath;
- Dress for the weather. Some people find natural fabrics like cotton to be cooler than synthetic fibers. Light-colored clothes feel cooler than dark colors; and
- Don’t try to exercise, walk long distances, or do a lot when it’s hot.
Who’s at risk?
Your health and lifestyle may raise the threat of a heat-related illness. These health factors may increase your risk:
- Poor circulation, inefficient sweat glands, and changes in the skin caused by normal aging;
- Heart, lung, and kidney diseases, as well as any illness that causes weakness or fever;
- High blood pressure or other conditions that require changes in diet, for example, people on low-salt diets may face an added risk (But don’t use salt pills without asking your doctor);
- The inability to perspire caused by some drugs, including diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers, and certain heart and blood pressure medicines;
- Taking several drugs at once for various conditions. (Don’t just stop taking them, talk with your doctor.);
- Being substantially overweight or underweight; and
- Drinking alcoholic beverages.
How to handle heat illnesses
Heat stress, heat fatigue, heat cramps, and heat exhaustion are all forms of hyperthermia, the general name for a range of heat-related illnesses. Symptoms may include headache; nausea; skin that is dry (no sweating), hot and red; muscle spasms; and fatigue after exposure to heat.
If you suspect someone is suffering from a heat-related illness, ER Extra recommends you do the following:
- Get the victim out of the sun and into a cool place — preferably one that is air-conditioned;
- Offer fluids but not alcohol or caffeine. Water and fruit and vegetable juices are best;
- Encourage the person to sponge off with cool water;
- Urge the person to lie down and rest, preferably in a cool place;
- Seek emergency medical attention if you suspect heat stroke. Possible symptoms of heat stroke include:
- Disorientation, agitation, or confusion
- Sluggishness or fatigue
- Hot, dry skin that is flushed but not sweaty
- High body temperature
- Loss of consciousness
- Rapid heartbeat
Source: StayWell Custom Communications and the National Institute on Aging.
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