Here’s how to protect you and older adults from heat and illness during the hot summer months

Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s hotter than the Fourth of July?” According to weather.com, warm weather records have been crushing cold weather records by more than a 5-to-1 ratio through mid-April 2017. On June 20, American Airlines canceled dozens of inbound and outbound flights out of Phoenix when temperatures reached 119 degrees. For young and old alike, there will be more hot summer days ahead of us in July, August, and a few in September too.

During the hot summer weather, many people with medical issues; especially older adults with medical issues must be aware of the dangers of having unusually high body temperature, also known as hyperthermia. According to National Institutes of Health (NIH), hyperthermia is an abnormally high body temperature caused by a failure of the heat-regulating mechanisms of the body to deal with the heat coming from the environment. After long exposure to the heat, health-related risk factors including heat cramps, heat stroke, and heat exhaustion and other heat-related factors can take a toll on us; especially older adults. The effects of extreme heat get worse if an older adult has a medical condition that increases the chance of these health-related risk factors.

Other health-related risk factors that can take a toll on us and increase the risk of hyperthermia, especially in older adults include:

  • Not drinking enough water (dehydration)
  • Drinking alcoholic beverages
  • Wearing heavy clothing in the heat, e.g. firefighters
  • Sweat reducing medications (e.g., diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers, and some blood pressure and heart drugs) —- It’s important to discuss the effect of medications with a doctor
  • Being considerably under or overweight
  • Age-related changes to the skin can (e.g., poor blood circulation and inadequate sweat glands)
  • Any illness that causes general weakness or fever

What should we and older adults do to beat the summer heat?

  • Check your loved one’s air conditioning system to ensure it is operational. If the power goes out or your loved one does not have air conditioning, make necessary arrangements before the heat reaches a dangerous level.
  • Consider shelter in places such as churches, shopping malls, libraries, free cooling centers, senior centers and community centers.
  • Stay hydrated by drink plenty of water or diluted fruit juices throughout the day. Talk with your doctor if medications you take affect fluid intake.
  • Cut back on caffeine and alcoholic beverages.
  • Be aware of signs of dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
  • Take cool baths or showers.
  • Wear a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and light-colored clothing.
  • Plan outside activities and errands during the cooler morning or evening hours.
  • Avoid strenuous physical activities outdoors and exercise indoors.
  • Lower shades to keep light and heat out.
  • Visit a relative, friend or a loved one who has air conditioning.
  • Stay indoors in cooled spaces as much as possible.

When should you seek emergency help?

The time to seek emergency assistance is when you or someone else has been in the heat and experiences nausea, confusion, faintness, staggering, hallucinations (visions that are not real), unusual agitation or coma. These could be signs of dehydration, heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Take action by cooling the person immediately and if necessary contact the doctor or dial the emergency number 911.

For additional information, contact Assisted Transition of Greater Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky at 513-246-4127.

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