With the extreme heat and heat advisories that States across the nation are experiencing, please remember that elderly people (that is, people aged 65 and older) are more prone to heat stress than younger people for several reasons:
- Elderly people do not adjust as well as young people to sudden changes in temperature.
- They are more likely to have a chronic medical condition that changes normal body responses to heat.
- They are more likely to take prescription medicines that impair the body’s ability to regulate its temperature or that inhibit perspiration.
Heat exhaustion is a heat-related illness that can occur after you’ve been exposed to high temperatures for several days and have become dehydrated. Although heat exhaustion isn’t as serious as heat stroke, it isn’t something to be taken lightly. Without proper intervention, heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke, which can damage the brain and other vital organs, and even cause death.
There are two types of heat exhaustion:
– Water depletion. Signs include excessive thirst, weakness, headache and consciousness.
– Salt depletion. Signs include nausea and vomiting, frequent muscle cramps, and dizziness.
Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion
- Dark-colored urine (a sign of dehydration)
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea or vomiting
- Pale skin
- Profuse sweating
- Rapid heartbeat
Heat Stroke (also known as sunstroke) is the most serious form of heat injury and is a medical emergency. It occurs when the body temperature becomes unable to control its temperature: the body’s temperature rises rapidly and the body loses its ability to sweat and is unable to cool down. Body temperatures rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause damage to the brain and other internal organs (or even death) if emergency treatment is not provided.
Signs and Symptoms of Heat Stroke
- An extremely high body temperature (above 103°).
- Red, hot and dry skin (no sweating)
- Rapid, strong pulse
- Throbbing headache
- Muscle weakness or cramps
What You Can Do to Protect Yourself
- Drink cool, non-alcoholic and caffeine-free beverages. (If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask your doctor how much you should drink when the weather is hot.) Also, avoid extremely cold liquids, because they can cause cramps.
- Take a cool shower, bath or sponge bath.
- If possible, seek an air-conditioned environment. (If you don’t have air-conditioning, consider visiting an air-conditioned shopping mall or public library to cool off.)
- Wear lightweight clothing.
- If possible, remain indoors in the heat of the day.
- Do not engage in strenuous activities.
What You Should Do to Protect the Elderly
- Visit older adults at risk at least twice a day and watch them for signs of heat stroke or exhaustion.
- Encourage them to increase their fluid intake by drinking cool, non-alcoholic beverages regardless of their activity level.
- Take them to air-conditioned locations if they have transportation.
What You Can Do for Someone With Heat Stress
If you see any signs of severe heat stress, you may be dealing with a life-threatening emergency. Call for immediate medical assistance and begin cooling the affected person. Do the following:
- Get the person to a shady area.
- Cool the person rapidly, using whatever methods you have. For example, immerse the person in a tub of cool water; place the person is a cool shower, spray the person with cool water from a garden hose, sponge the person with cool water, or wrap the person in a cool, wet sheet and fan him/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.
Check with your doctor to see if your health conditions and medications are likely to affect your ability to cope with extreme heat and humidity.
Source: Web MD, CDC