Things to Watch for During the Hottest Months
July routinely ties with August for the designation, “hottest month of the year” in the US. Of course, this is when the sun is shining, birds are singing, and everyone is itching to get outside and do something. And, of course, this is when we see the highest instance of heat-related illnesses and deaths.
Major heat-related illnesses include Dehydration, Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke.
As people age, their body’s fluid reserve becomes smaller, their ability to conserve water is reduced, and their thirst sense becomes less acute. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports several reasons people aged 65 or older are more prone to heat-related health problems. Among them are:
- Older adults do not adjust well to sudden changes in temperature.
- They are more likely to have a chronic medical condition, such as diabetes or dementia, that changes normal body responses to heat.
- Older adults are more likely to take prescription medicines that affect the body’s ability to control its temperature or sweat.
Dehydration occurs when a person uses or loses more fluid than he/she takes in and the body doesn’t have enough water and other fluids to perform its normal functions. Older adults naturally have a lower volume of water in their bodies and Mayo Clinic notes that even minor illnesses in seniors, such as infections affecting the lungs or bladder, can result in dehydration. Mild to moderate dehydration usually can be reversed by drinking more fluids; however, severe dehydration needs immediate medical treatment.
Signs of dehydration in an older adult include:
- Extreme thirst
- Less frequent urination
- Dark-colored urine
Individuals are encouraged to see a doctor if the following signs appear.
- Diarrhea for 24 hours or more
- Irritable or disoriented and much sleepier or less active than usual
- Can’t keep fluids down
- Bloody or black stool
To prevent dehydration, it is advisable to drink plenty of fluids and to eat foods high in water, such as fruits and vegetables.
Heat Exhaustion is a condition that can be caused by exposure to high temperatures and strenuous physical activity. Symptoms may include heavy sweating and a weak, rapid pulse. Heat exhaustion is unpredictable, as it can develop suddenly or over time. Signs of heat exhaustion in seniors also include:
- Cool, moist skin with goose bumps when in the heat
- Muscle cramps
Seniors are encouraged to wear loose fitting, light clothing to protect themselves against sunburn, drink plenty of fluids, and to take extra precautions with medications. If heat exhaustion is suspected, older adults should stop all activity and rest, move to a cooler place, and drink cool water or sports drinks. If symptoms do not improve within one hour, it is advisable to contact a doctor.
The most serious heat-related illness—according to the Centers for Disease Control—is Heat Stroke, which happens when the body is unable to regulate temperature and cannot cool down. The body loses its ability to sweat, so the temperature can rapidly rise to 106°F or higher.
If left untreated, heat stroke can lead to death or permanent disability. Warning signs of heat stroke may include:
- Extremely high body temperature—above 103°F
- Red, hot or dry skin with no sweating
- Rapid, strong pulse
- Throbbing headache
If heat stroke is suspected, call for help; seek medical assistance as soon as possible.
During these hot, summer months, keep an eye on senior friends and loved ones. Encourage them to stay in air-conditioned buildings as much as possible, to get plenty of rest, and to drink more water than usual; not to wait until they are thirsty to drink. Oftentimes, older adults might not feel thirsty until they are already dehydrated.
Written by Becky Deo
July 13, 2018