In a recent study by the University of Chicago Medical Center, older adults aged 65 years and above are more vulnerable to heat-related problems and poor hydration. Seniors aged 65 years and above accounted for about 40% of heat fatalities in the US. Our elderly loved ones do not very well tolerate sudden temperature changes. Furthermore, various medications and several ailments can affect the body’s ability to manage sweat and cause dehydration. The body’s natural capability to adhere to temperature changes is greatly affected due to advancing age. In addition, the body’s temperature regulation mechanism paves the way for dehydration and heat stroke.
Understanding heat stroke in the elderly
All age groups do not consistently well tolerate scorching temperatures. And more so by the senior population. With advancing age, our body undergoes a lot of changes. The sweat glands become less efficient in managing the sweat. A significant decrease in circulation makes our elderly loved ones more likely to suffer heat stroke. Additionally, our seniors also fall prey to various chronic diseases such as:
Which significantly increases their chances of suffering a heat stroke.
A heat stroke is characterized by a high body temperature that rises above 103 degrees F within 10–15 minutes. The condition can cause death or permanent disability in the elderly if immediate action is not initiated on time.
Heat exhaustion is another form of heat illness, but mild compared to heat stroke. This particular condition must be mentioned here since we are discussing heat stroke. Heat exhaustion is equally essential during hot summer days. The elderly can even develop this condition after several days of heat exposure and inadequate fluid intake. Given this, it also becomes necessary to mention the various signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion.
Fast and shallow breathing
Rapid pulse rate
Symptoms of heat stroke
If your elderly is experiencing any of the following symptoms, it is best to consult the doctor as soon as possible.
A rapid pulse
Hot, red, and dry skin, which indicates the inability of the body to produce sweat
Decreased urinary output
Nausea accompanied by anorexia and vomiting
A high body temperature
A headache along with dizziness
As caregivers, you should take careful note of all the above-mentioned symptoms of heat stroke. In addition, it would be best if you also made your elderly aware of the said symptoms so that they can adopt strategies to prevent dehydration.
What to do for a Heat Stroke
If you suspect that your elderly is suffering from heat stroke, then you would need to do the following:
Keep them cool
Lowering the body temperature is the key; for that, you would immediately need to shift your elderly to a cool place. First, if you do not have an air conditioner, it is advisable to move them to a place where such facilities are available. You can also consider keeping a wet towel handy for your senior, which they can use to lower their body temperature. Secondly, you can also consider using cool packs, which can be placed on the head, chest, and neck to lower the body temperature.
Keep them hydrated
Give them fluids and salty snacks, which can help correct the sudden fall in electrolyte levels. Non–alcoholic, as well as non – caffeinated beverages, are the best pals during hot summer days.
Avoid strenuous activity
Do not allow your elderly to indulge in physical activity when experiencing such symptoms. If your elderly still feels uncomfortable, it is best to seek medical attention at the earliest opportunity.
Tips to prevent heat stroke in the elderly
During summer, the temperature keeps rising, and the sun doesn’t show mercy. Therefore, we must protect our seniors from the wrath of heat waves. Heat stroke can become life-threatening for the elderly. And therefore, one must take adequate precautions to prevent an emergency. Here are several tips to avoid heat stroke in the elderly:
Staying cool indoors in an air conditioner is the best way to avoid sun exposure.
When the temperature outside is boiling, a fan alone is not always sufficient to cool the room, and you would need additional air cooling systems. If your home does not have an air conditioner, then you need to contact your nearest health department, or you can locate a home shelter with air cooling facilities.
Make sure the elderly wear light-colored clothing.
Dark-colored clothing absorbs more heat, so it is always advisable to wear light-colored clothing whenever you move out. Light-fitting clothing would also make your elderly comfortable in the hot sun.
Staying well hydrated is very important to prevent heat stroke.
Drink plenty of fluids in small intervals. However, if your elderly is on fluid restriction, you must contact the doctor about how much fluids to drink during summer days.
Rest as much as possible
Advise your elderly to rest as much as possible and not allow them to indulge in heavy or strenuous activities that would cause them to sweat.
Do not allow your elderly to go out in the midday sun.
Plan the day to run errands either before 10 in the morning or after 6 in the evening. In between, it is advisable to stay indoors.
Shower to stay cool
If you find your elderly sweating and feeling hot, ask them to take cool showers at least twice a day. You are taking frequent baths during hot summer days. At least twice a day is a good idea, as it helps them to stay fresh and also helps in lowering their body temperature.
Be aware of the signs and symptoms of heat stroke and exhaustion.
If you find that your elderly is sweating excessively, or their body has a high temperature, and they seem to have a rapid pulse rate or are having difficulty breathing. Then it is advisable to contact the doctor immediately.
As we get older, it is harder to stay calm. So follow the above tips and suggestions to help with the dog days of summer. Also, check out this post on thinning skin.
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