Folic Acid May Aid Elders During Heat Waves

Caregiver, patient expert

The type of heat exhaustion or mild dehydration that a middle aged caregiver may feel during a heat wave is uncomfortable, but the same occurrence could be deadly for an elder. Because of the seriousness of overheating, some older people take a prescription drug that helps increase blood flow to the skin which in turn helps them cool off.

Recently, Penn State researchers published information suggesting that folic acid, also known as vitamin B9, may be an inexpensive alternative for prescription drugs for the elderly during heat waves. Folic acid also increases skin blood flow and has been shown to reduce cardiovascular events, as well.

"In the past, studies conducted in our lab showed that we can increase nitric oxide production, and then consequently reflex skin blood flow in older adults by giving them an expensive pharmaceutical. So in this study we wanted to test that again, but with an inexpensive treatment that might work the same way,” Anna Stanhewicz, post-doctoral fellow in kinesiology at Penn State said.

The study found that folic acid was as effective as the prescription drug and far less expensive. The researchers are now going to look at the possibility that people who’ve taken folic acid throughout their lifetime may be less affected by cardiac disease.

Traditional methods of protecting against the dangers of excessive heat

Every year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) promotes tips on keeping our elders safe in extreme heat. Suggestions include:

•    Cool, nonalcoholic beverages. If the doctor generally limits the amount of fluid your elder may drink or has him on water pills, ask the doctor how much should be consumed when the weather is hot. Also, avoid extremely cold liquids because they can cause cramps.
•    Encourage Rest 
•    Provide a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath
•    If possible, seek an air-conditioned environment. If you and/or your loved one don't have air conditioning, consider visiting an air-conditioned shopping mall or public library to cool off. 
•    Provide lightweight clothing
•    If possible, keep your elder indoors during the heat of the day
•    Do not involve your elder in strenuous activities during heat waves

It’s important for caregivers to remember the iconic advice given on airplanes – put on your own oxygen mask first. This holds true in extreme heat. If you don’t stay hydrated and safe when on an outing with your elderly loved one you may not be able to be vigilant about your vulnerable elder’s condition. So, take care of your own needs, as well.

Additionally, you may want to talk with your loved one’s doctor about the advisability of supplementing your elder’s diet with extra folic acid. Never add the supplement without medical guidance as it could interact with other drugs. However, anything that can help our elders enjoy life by staying involved without endangering their health seems to be worth a second look.

Carol is a newspaper columnist and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. She runs award winning websites at _ www.mindingourelders.com and_www.mindingoureldersblogs.com. On Twitter, f_ollow Carol @mindingourelder and on Facebook:_ Minding Our Elders

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