Recent heat waves pose as much of a health risk for your aging parents as do winter storms or hurricanes. It is not unheard of for people of all ages to succumb to extreme heat. There are many ways to keep yourself, and the elderly people in your life, safe and protected during a heat wave.
What are the dangers of a heat wave?
Heat waves can be dangerous for anyone of any age, but they are more dangerous for the elderly, babies and young children. As you age, your body is less able to regulate its temperature and the elderly may be more impacted by the effects of the heat than they realize. As the body’s temperature control centers are less sensitive, they may not “initiate the correct cooling mechanisms within the body when it becomes overheated” and this can lead to heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses. Medications can also lead to insensitivity to heat fluctuations.
Here are a few tips on how to cool off when the thermometer rises:
- Stay out of the sun.
- Close the curtains in the home to prevent the sun from heating up the interior.
- Run the air conditioner or fans throughout the house. Open windows slightly to create a cross breeze.
- Stay indoors and don’t plan on walking or exercising out of doors until the sun goes down and the temperatures drop.
- Dress in light colored and lightweight clothing.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Take a cool shower or place cool water compresses on your body to help cool it down.
Taking measures to avoid heat exhaustion or heat stroke is very important and can mean the difference between early intervention and a serious medical concern.
Summer will bring with it long, lazy days of sunshine and chances are heat emergencies will also arise as a result. As a general rule, the National Weather Service issues a heat advisory when the heat index meets a certain threshold. These are the days when checking on your loved one is ever more important!
Heat is as dangerous to the health of your elderly loved ones as is the cold in the winter. There are symptoms both you and your elderly loved ones should be aware of. These symptoms include:
- A throbbing headache
- Increased body temperature
- Skin that is extremely hot and dry to the touch
- Rapid pulse rate
- Dizziness and/or nausea or vomiting
The symptoms of heat stroke or heat exhaustion include:
- Weakness or lethargy
- Profuse sweating
- Pale, cold or clammy skin
- Weak pulse
- A body temperature of 106 degrees or more
Heat stroke requires immediate medical attention. If your parents live alone and are in an area of the country where excessive heat could be an issue, equipping their home with a medical alert device can offer peace of mind for both of you should they begin feeling the effects of the heat. With the press of the medical alarm button, assistance is available.
The elderly don’t adjust well to either extreme cold or extreme heat. The medications that your aging parent may be on can also contribute to issues with heat toleration and these factors combined can put additional stress on their hearts.
There are steps you can take to “heat-proof” your aging relative’s home in the event there is a heat emergency or simply for those overly-warm summer days that will be upon us soon:
- Advise them to eat lighter, smaller meals
- Use a whole-house air conditioner if possible. If this isn’t possible equip at least one of the rooms with a window air conditioner so they can spend time in that one cooled room. If neither of those options are viable, the home should at least have fans running to help create a cross breeze.
- They should avoid alcohol and caffeine and drink at least two to four cups of water every hour
- Wear lightweight, loose fitting clothing
- Relax and don’t exercise during the hottest parts of the day
- If they need to go outside, make certain they carry a bottle of water with them and wear a hat and sunscreen
- Taking a cool shower or soaking in a tepid bath will also help alleviate the stress of the heat
Make certain no matter what your parents do, that they always have their medical alert pendant on them at all times. They may be unaware they’re suffering heat stroke until the symptoms overtake them.