The heat of summer is here, so this is a good time to review some vital safety tips for seniors. Elderly persons are more prone to the effects of heat and at greater risk for dehydration. Make sure you or someone you can trust is checking in on your elderly family members.
Heat exhaustion is the more mild form of heat-related illness.
Warning signs may include the following:
- Heavy sweating
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea or vomiting
- Skin may be cool and moist.
- Pulse rate may be fast and weak.
- Breathing may be fast and shallow.
Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness.
It occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature; the body’s temperature rises rapidly, the body loses its ability to sweat, and it is unable to cool down. Body temperatures rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided. Warning signs may include the following:
- An extremely high body temperature (above 103°F)
- Red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating)
- Rapid, strong pulse
- A throbbing headache
Any indication of heat stroke is a medical emergency. Seek immediate medical attention.
The most common signs of dehydration in the elderly are thirst, confusion, irritability, and poor skin elasticity. Keeping hydrated on a regular basis is the most important preventative measure. Individuals should be encouraged to drink fluids- even when not thirsty- as thirst may not be triggered until already dehydrated. Heat and dehydration may make seniors more prone to dizziness and falls and can cause or increase confusion. Keep these tips in mind:
- Try to provide light-colored clothing with breathable fabric.
- Plan activities that require going outside during non-peak hours when it might be a little cooler.
- Move exercise indoors. Consider exercising at a gym, walking on a treadmill, or visiting museums or libraries instead of outdoor walks or activities. Swimming and water aerobics are good options as well.
- Drink plenty of fluids (non-alcoholic, caffeine-free as these ingredients have a diuretic effect). Talk with your doctor if they take medications that affect fluid intake.
- Stay indoors, in cooled spaces as much as possible. Check your loved one’s air-conditioning system, and do a maintenance review. If the electricity goes out, or your loved one does not have air conditioning, consider alternative arrangements when heat is at dangerous levels.
- Be aware of signs of dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Be aware of other summer dangers. Talk with your loved one about alternatives if he/she enjoys being outdoors during the summer. Certain activities, such as yard work, may be especially dangerous in the heat, but may also pose general risks for falling and safety. Be vigilant about sunscreen and protect against insect bites. If you or someone you know has a bite that seems abnormal or you notice any unusual symptoms, seek medical attention.
Remember, those dealing with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia may be at a higher risk for experiencing many of these summer dangers. Wandering, confusion, and forgetfulness may all increase these risk factors.