Summer is going strong around the country. And while many will enjoy the sweltering days of 100 plus temperatures by taking a cool dip in a lake or ocean, many elderly are no longer physically able to cool off this way. Other changes are occurring in their body as well—changes that make heat a potentially deadly intruder. According to Calvin Hirsch, a geriatrics specialist with UC Davis Health System, “Seniors account for a disproportionate number of heat-related hospitalizations and deaths.”
How Heat Affects the Elderly
As the body ages, it no longer has the same capacity to regulate temperature as it did in its younger days. The hypothalamus is a small part of the brain that is responsible for maintaining the core body temperature—it’s the body’s personal thermostat. It the body is too hot, it tells it to sweat, dilates the peripheral blood vessels and slows the metabolism down. Chronic illnesses, the side-effects of certain prescription medications, and the mere fact that seniors just don’t sweat as much as their younger counterparts puts them at greater risk for heat illnesses.
How to Help
- Water. Staying hydrated is probably the most important thing you can do to help an aging parent. Dehydration disables the body’s ability to regulate temperature and increases the chance of heat exhaustion tremendously. Make sure they have a glass of water by their side throughout the day and, for non-water drinkers, make it more appealing by adding flavored ice cubes or fruit. Food high in water content, such as watermelon and celery, are good additions to the diet at this time. And avoid beverages that are dehydrating such as those containing caffeine or alcohol.
- Sponge Down. Keep a cool, moist towel handy in order to decrease body temperature. Wrapped up ice-cubes or ice packs also work well for a quick cool down. A small hand-held mister with a rotating fan does wonders for relieving incessant heat.
- Air Conditioning. This is, of course, one of the best tools for preventing heat illnesses. If there is not one, or if the power has gone out, spend a few hours a day in an air conditioned environment such as a mall, library or restaurant.
- Stay in the coolest place in the home, avoid too much activity, and use fans.
Recognize the Symptoms
The initial stages of heat exhaustion which can lead to head stroke may appear as flu-like symptoms and can include nausea, light-headedness, fatigue, weakness, muscle cramping and loss of appetite. Confusion and seizures may result. Take the necessary steps to get the body temperature down and call 9-1-1.
Elderly Care Provider
An elderly care provider can be there for your parent when friends and family are unable to. Not only can they assist with daily activities, they can ensure your loved one is safe by providing companionship and care during the warm days of summer.