Hot weather can cause adverse health effects for many people, especially seniors. As we age, our ability to regulate heat decreases which makes us more susceptible to heat stroke. Heat stress and heat stroke are serious and are considered medical emergencies due to their potential health-damaging effects. Because seniors are at an increased risk of developing heat stress they may require special care during the summer.
Heat stroke occurs when the body cannot cool itself and maintain a normal temperature. Sweating, the body’s primary cooling mechanism, is insufficient in the case of heat stroke. Prolonged exposure to high temperatures can lead to various forms of hyperthermia:
Forms of Hyperthermia
This is a sudden sense of fainting that can occur if you stay in hot weather too long. Heat syncope can be triggered by excessive physical exertion that prevents the body from cooling. If you experience this sensation you must cease all activities, drink plenty of water, and rest immediately.
Heat cramps are caused by the tightening of muscles in your arms, legs, or abdomen which can result in severe pain. Heat cramps will show no spike in body temperature and often come with hard, physical exercise.
If you experience heavy sweating and rapid pulse during hot weather or strenuous activity, your body is likely overheating due to heat exhaustion. You may also experience dizziness, low blood pressure, and nausea. Heat exhaustion often precedes heat stroke so be mindful and cease all activity, drink water, and rest immediately. If symptoms persist, medical intervention may be required.
This is the most severe form of heat-related illness and can be fatal without medical intervention. Heat stroke can cause brain damage or death if left untreated. You should call emergency services immediately if you see any signs of heat stroke. Seniors living in apartments without air conditioning and people suffering from alcoholism are more prone to heat stroke.
Heat stroke often progresses from milder forms of hyperthermia such as heat cramps and exhaustion, but can also occur without warning.
The following are some of the symptoms of heat stroke:
- Fainting due to heat
- Erratic behavior such as confusion and agitation
- High body temperature of 104 degrees or higher
- Strong, rapid pulse or weak, slow pulse
- Lack of sweat in hot temperature
- Throbbing headache
- Nausea and vomiting
- Hot and dry skin in hot weather
- Dry or slightly moist skin during strenuous activity
- Shallow breathing
Anybody suspected of suffering from heat stroke should be assisted while waiting for emergency responders by:
- Moving them to an air-conditioned area or cooler shade
- Cooling their body using any available options such as a cold compress or dousing with cold water
- Removing their excess clothing for proper ventilation
Are You at Risk of Heat Stroke?
The following groups of people and activities increase the risk of developing a heat stroke:
- Seniors over the age of 50
- Older people who live in homes with no air conditioning system or poor air flow
- People who drink little water or drink excessive alcohol
- People suffering from chronic diseases such as heart, lung, or kidney disease
- Living in an environment with humidity above 60% as it impedes evaporation
- People living in urban areas during prolonged heat waves and stagnant atmosphere
- People with diabetes because they tend to underestimate their body temperature
- Use of medications such as antihistamines, diet pills, anticonvulsants, and narcotics
How to Prevent Heat Stroke
- Avoid dehydration by drinking plenty of fluids regularly. Alcoholic drinks should be avoided.
- Wear clothes that are appropriate for the weather.
- Stay indoors during midday to avoid the extreme heat outside.
- Avoid exercise or strenuous activities when the weather is hot.
- Monitor the heat index using the internet or weather channels to keep tabs on humidity.
- Maintain a cool home by using air conditioners.
- Avoid crowded places when the weather is hot.
- Be familiar with the signs of heat stroke, such as dizziness, so you can seek help as early as possible.
Heat strokes don’t always show warning signs so check with your doctor to ensure that you are not engaging in activity or taking medications that can predispose you to heat stroke. Also, share information about heat stroke with your loved ones to help them prevent it.