Senior Safety | May 25, 2016
Summer is right around the corner and before we know it, the days are long and the temperatures are high. This time of year heat-related illnesses such as heat stroke, dehydration, and heat exhaustion are a growing concern among the senior and elderly. While Canada may be known for our cold winters and temperate summers, heat-related illnesses are a concern for seniors, especially since they aren’t used to handling the physical demands of a hot climate.
Our bodies work hard every day to maintain a normal temperature. Excessive heat forces our body to work harder than normal, which often is the root cause of heat-related illness. Essentially the heat forces our bodies to work beyond their limits. For senior citizens, this can be a dangerous – and even deadly – problem. With awareness and preventative measures, caregivers can help their senior loved ones enjoy a healthy, active summer.
Seniors don’t ‘feel the heat’ the way younger people do, and so might not be aware of the risks of high temperatures. Physiologically, as we age our bodies lose some natural ability to regulate temperature making seniors more susceptible to temperature changes in the environment. One such change is that the subcutaneous layer of fat beneath the skin, which acts as a natural insulation to hear and cold, dwindles. Also because seniors perspire less, it’s harder for them to keep cool which also increases their risk of becoming overheated.
The two most serious conditions for seniors that result from heat and exposure to high temperatures are heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat exhaustion is a non-life-threatening condition caused by loss of salt and fluid from the body that results from prolonged exposure to extreme heat. Characteristic symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
Once you recognize that the senior in your life is in distress and exhibiting the symptoms of heat exhaustion, it’s imperative to take action to cool him or her down. Move him or her to a cool, dry place to lie down and rest. Loosen or remove clothing. Apply cool water to the skin and fan the wet skin. Applying ice that is wrapped in a towel to the head, neck armpits and groin areas can help to bring down the body temperature, too. Also have him or her drink cool water. The water should be cool, but not iced. Electrolyte drinks are also good for someone experiencing this condition. Heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke.
Heat stroke, on the other hand, is a life threatening condition. It requires immediate medical attention. Heat stroke occurs when the body cannot cool itself, usually because sweating stops and the body’s core temperature becomes too high. Conditions like obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, as well as taking some medications commonly prescribed to seniors, being dehydrated or consuming alcohol in elevated temperatures, can all contribute to the increased risk of heat stroke. Symptoms of heat stroke include:
Another major issue seniors can experience due to prolonged heat exposure is dehydration. People age 65 and older can lose their sense of thirst, and tend to not drink enough. Older people also have less ability to perspire, which is a mechanism to release heat from the body. In addition, many older people have chronic health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, and may take medications that can make them more susceptible to dehydration and can cause increased sensitivity to sunlight.
Dehydration is caused by loss of salts and water in our bodies due to severe sweating, extreme heat, vomiting, diarrhea and certain medications. Severe dehydration can become life threatening to the elderly because there is no longer enough fluid in the body to carry blood to the organs. Symptoms of dehydration include:
Seniors who are dehydrated should be moved to a cool place to lie down and rest. They should drink water to replenish fluids.
As a caregiver you can help to prevent dehydration and heat exhaustion in your senior loved one by following these simple tips:
As always, guidelines in this article are not intended as medical advice. Do seek medical attention for your senior if he or she experiences heat-related issues. That way you can assure that your senior has a safe and healthy summer!
Comfort Keepers®’ trained caregivers help provide senior clients with the highest quality of life possible to keep them happy and healthy at home. Our Interactive Caregiving™ provides a system of care that addresses safety, nutrition, mind, body, and activities of daily living (ADLs) no matter what the weather.
For additional information on Comfort Keepers of Canada® at Toronto or any other Comfort Keepers of Canada® location please visit our home page or call us at 416-663-2930.