Beat the Heat:
Tips to Battle Heat Stress among the Elderly
As temperatures rise, the elderly have to battle the effects that heat can have on their bodies and everyday activities. As a caretaker or the family member of an elderly loved one, it is crucial that you become aware of the dangers that accompany heat stress in an individual, the signs and symptoms, and the treatment or first aid options you have as a caregiver. Being proactive in this area will help you “beat the heat” when it matters the most.
Heat stress is the general term used to describe the body’s inability to cool itself down; under the umbrella of heat stress are illnesses caused by heat, which include heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. The elderly are more susceptible to heat stress for several reasons—the ability to recognize changes in body temperature decreases with age, they have underlying health issues that cause their body to adapt to heat at a slower rate, and prescription medications may make them prone to dehydration or unable to regulate body temperature properly. These added risk factors make the summer season a more dangerous time for seniors and their health.
Being able to recognize common signs and symptoms of heat stress will allow you to approach the hottest time of the year with caution and care for your family. Several of the typical symptoms of heat stress include, but are not limited to:
· High body temperature
· Rapid or strong pulse
· Red, hot, or dry skin
· Dizziness or fainting
· Nausea or vomiting
· Chest pain
· Trouble breathing
The severity and fluctuation of symptoms may indicate the level of heat stress that the person is experiencing, whether it be heat cramps, exhaustion, or stroke. The chart below helps to clarify which symptoms align with which heat-induced illness, and gives essential first aid tips for each illness.
Taking action and providing appropriate first aid is necessary in situations where signs and symptoms are present, but there are precautions that can be taken in order to avoid heat stress to begin with. Use these tips during high temperatures to help keep not only the elderly safe and healthy, but also yourself and your family.
- Drink plenty of liquids to avoid dehydration, especially water and juice. Avoid alcoholic or caffeinated drinks.
- Wear appropriate clothing that allows your body to “breathe”; choose light-colored, lightweight, loose-fitting clothing and hats when necessary.
- Stay inside during the hottest parts of the day. Avoid going out for extended periods of time between the hours of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Take it easy and try to avoid strenuous activity, especially if it is outdoors.
- Watch the heat index, which will help you stay up-to-date on the current conditions.
- Seek out air-conditioned environments to regulate body temperature.
- Get plenty of rest and take a cool shower or bath to cool down.
- Know the warning signs of heat-related illness and be quick to act when they are present.
For more information, here is a resource on this topic from the CDC: