How and why seniors should beat the heat
In the summer months, when the temperature rises, a caregiver might think it’s a good idea to have a loved one go outside and get fresh air. Before they make that decision, they should consider the person’s age and fitness, says Dr. AJ Smally, Chief of Emergency Medicine at Hartford Hospital. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that over the past three decades, over 8,000 people have died as a result of excessive heat exposure, and those deaths could have been prevented.
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are two variations of the same problem, which is that a person cannot handle heat stress. Smally says seniors are vulnerable to extreme heat because they don’t feel common symptoms of this problem. The person would feel hot, dizzy, sweaty and thirsty.
“The caregiver should watch and see if the person is not acting like themselves,” Smally says. ”If they are 75 but they’ve had two strokes, it might be normal. But if someone else is acting funny and they’re running a major corporation, it’s not normal.”
According to Smally, caregivers can figure out whether it’s heat exhaustion or heat stroke by looking at or feeling their loved one’s skin.
“In heat exhaustion, people may look pale and sweaty,” Smally says. ”The skin can be cool and moist. If the person has heat stroke, the skin is hot and dry and those people have a very abnormal mental status. You’re going to be so sick, you won’t even know that you’re sick at that point.”
Smally and Paula Schenck, MPH, a member of the Section of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the University of Connecticut Health Center raised concerns about the elderly who do not have access to adequate air conditioning or a fan.
“This is a population that we need to be very concerned about,” Schenck says. “With climate change, even though this population spends 90-95 percent inside, with those who don’t have adequate air conditioning, it’s going to stress respiratory and cardiovascular health.”
If you have a loved one who does not have access to a fan or air-conditioning, ”take them with the air conditioning in your car for a few hours,” Smally says. “Take them someplace to get a cool drink.”
According to Smally, if your loved one is “a little overheated,” there are steps caregivers can take to reduce exposure at home.
“Get them into a cooler place, drinking cool fluids; taking their clothes off to their underwear (is helpful),” Smally says. ”Sponge them down with lukewarm water, and blow them off with a fan. Don’t have cold water because if you put cold water on someone, their blood vessels constrict to protect them from losing heat. If you put too cold of water on the person, the body may overreact and keep the heat in.”
If you do decide to go outside, Schenck and Smally advise seniors to wear loose-fitting clothing and a wide-brimmed hat instead of a sweater or long pants. Smally adds, “If it’s 98 degrees, nobody should be out. The elderly shouldn’t be out on a hot day; they should avoid it. If you take Grandma to the park and she’s ill and on four meds, an hour in the sun could kill her. But if you have a 75-year-old guy who is active, exercises regularly, is not taking multiple medications and it’s an 85 degree day, he can go and play a round of golf if he drinks plenty of fluids, wears a broad-brimmed had, and wears loose-fitting clothing.”
If you or a loved one has been exposed to excessive heat, take your temperature, Smally says. If you have a loved one whose temperature is over 100.4, and home remedies have not worked, get to a hospital right away.
If you have any questions about this post or need help finding senior-care options for a loved one, call 1-866-483-4896 to speak with a care advisor in your area.