Whether we are taking an elderly person to a family reunion or a backyard picnic this summer, we need to be aware that summer heat can become deadly as people age. From less efficient cooling systems to more illnesses and medications, elders have many issues that can make them vulnerable to extreme temperatures.
Don’t let the heat stop you from taking your elder out for some fun, but prevent problems by finding a shady place for your loved one to sit and check frequently to see if he or she is comfortable. Offer cool, non-alcoholic drinks often to keep dehydration at bay. Also, watch for bugs. Elderly people may scratch at bites which can become infected. Aging, fragile skin needs to be kept moist, out of intense sun and as free of bites as possible.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that heat stroke occurs when the body can no longer regulate and control its temperature, sending the body’s temperature to 106 degrees or higher in just a manner of minutes. They underscore the point that elderly people are more at risk than younger people. Watch for:
- An extremely high body temperature (above 103°F)
- Red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating)
- Rapid, strong pulse
- Throbbing headache
An elder doesn’t have to be outside to suffer from heat stroke or dehydration, so be alert if you have an elderly loved one or friend who lives alone. My mother-in-law used to turn her air conditioner off, leaving the windows tightly closed and curtains drawn. I’d turn the AC on low when I made my daily rounds, but she’d consistently shut it off, likely as soon as I left. Within hours, her apartment became the proverbial furnace. In situations like my mother-in-law’s, the CDC recommends:
- If an elder is at-risk of heat stroke or stress, be sure to visit them at least twice per day and check for signs of heat stroke or heat exhaustion.
- Take them to an air-conditioned location as a reprieve from the heat.
Dehydration can be serious, as well
Heat stroke can be deadly on its own. Additionally, an elder out on a hot summer day is at increased risk of dehydration which can cause or worsen dementia symptoms. Encourage increased fluid intake with cool, nonalcoholic beverages. If the doctor has limited their fluid intake under normal conditions, or the elder takes diuretics (water pills), contact the physician to see how much fluid they can consume during the hot summer months.
Moderate dehydration can cause an elder to become confused or irritable beyond normal behavior. The person will stop sweating, and their eyes may not produce tears. When an elderly person is dehydrated, his or her blood pressure may become low and the pulse can be rapid.
What to do in an emergency
If you see that your elder – or anyone for that matter – is showing signs of heat distress, the CDC reminds you that you may be dealing with a life-threatening emergency. Have someone call for immediate medical assistance while you begin cooling the affected person.
- Move the person to a shady area.
- Cool the person rapidly, using whatever methods you can. For example, immerse the person in a tub of cool water; place the person in a cool shower; spray the person with cool water from a garden hose; sponge the person with cool water; or if the humidity is low, wrap the person in a cool, wet sheet and fan him or her vigorously.
- Monitor body temperature and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101°–102°F.
- If emergency medical personnel are delayed, call the hospital emergency room for further instructions.
- Do not give the person alcohol to drink.
- Get medical assistance as soon as possible.
I hope you’ll be able to include your elders in your summer activities. A change of pace is good for most of us, and indirect sun may feel good on the skin. Just be aware of how fragile your elder may be. While the summer sun may feel wonderful to you, it may be too much for an older person. If you make certain someone is aware of how the elder is doing at all times everyone should enjoy a safe outing.
Published On: June 27, 2013