Heat-related deaths are one of the deadliest weather-related health outcomes. There is a significant risk of suffering heat-related illness in elderly populations.
According to a study by the University of Chicago Medical Center, 40% of all heat-related deaths in the U.S. were people over 65. Here is why:
- Aging adults bodies do not adjust as well to sudden changes in temperature.
- Medications such as antibiotics and diuretics, which older adults are more likely to be taking, can limit the body’s ability to sweat or regulate its temperature.
- Many older adults have chronic medical conditions that change the body’s normal response to heat.
The sad thing is that all heat-related illnesses and deaths are preventable. Here is what caregivers need to know to ensure that their elderly loved one does not succumb to heat-related illness or death.
What is a Heat-Related Illness?
Also called hyperthermia, heat-related illness occurs when the body is exposed to extreme heat and cannot properly cool itself causing the body temperature to rise. High humidity can make it worse because it does not allow sweat to evaporate, which is the body’s natural way of removing heat.
Extremely high body temperatures can cause damage to vital organs, including the brain. In severe circumstances, it can lead to multiple organ failure and death.
There are two types of heat-related illnesses – heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Heat exhaustion can occur after several days of exposure to high temperatures and not enough fluids. The signs of heat exhaustion vary but may include any of the following:
- Heavy sweating
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea or vomiting
- Cool and moist skin
- A fast and weak pulse rate
- Breathing that is fast and shallow
Heat stroke is a more serious heat-related illness. It occurs when the body temperature quickly rises, and the body cannot cool it down. With heat stroke, the body temperature can rise to 106°F or higher in just 10 or 15 minutes and can cause permanent disability and even death.
The signs of heat stroke include the following:
- A body temperature above 103°F
- Red, hot, and dry skin
- Rapid, strong pulse
- Throbbing headache
- Heat Exhaustion
Tips to Prevent Heat-Related Illness in Elderly People
- Dress Appropriately
Make sure your elderly loved one wears loose fitting, cool, light-colored clothing in hot weather. Avoid going outside during the hottest time of the day. When they do go out, they should try to stay in the shade, use sunblock with at least a 30 SPF, and wear a hat.
- Drink Plenty of Fluids
Make sure your elderly loved one drinks plenty of nonalcoholic fluids, such as water. Drinks with caffeine can cause dehydration. Sports drinks such as Gatorade help replace potassium and sodium lost during perspiration.
- Check Temperature in the Home
When temperatures begin to rise, make sure your aging loved one has a way to keep their home cool. If they do not have an air conditioner, make sure they have fans and that they can open their windows to allow in breezes.
Some older adults do not open their windows because of safety concerns, but there are safety latches available that allow windows to be open enough to allow a breeze in but not enough to be completely opened from the outside.
If your aging loved one is having trouble paying home cooling and heating costs, try contacting the National Energy Assistance Referral service, your local Area Agency on Aging, senior center, or social service agency.
- Seek Relief
If your aging loved one does not have air conditioning, consider taking them to public places that do have air conditioning such as libraries and malls or to visit friends or family who have air conditioning.
What to Do If Suspect A Heat-Related Illness in Elderly Loved One?
If you think your aging loved one may be experiencing heat exhaustion, The National Institutes of Health suggests these actions:
- Move them to an air-conditioned place.
- Remove tight clothing or extra layers of clothing.
- Drink fluids.
- Have them lay down and elevate their legs and feet slightly.
- Use cold compresses on the wrists, neck, armpits, and groin or have them take a cold shower or bath.
- Monitor them carefully.
- Call 911 if symptoms worsen or if you suspect they may be suffering from a heat stroke.
Role of Professional Senior Care and Elderly Home Care Services
If you would like to learn how Hibernian Home Care can help ensure the safety of your aging loved one, give us a call at 732-481-1148 or contact us online to schedule a complimentary initial consultation with our registered nurse and case manager.