People of elderly ages, or 65 years and older, find themselves more prone to the ill effects of heat stress than people of younger years. This is true for a few significant reasons. First, the elderly are not as capable of adjusting to abrupt changes in the temperature as are younger people. Second, seniors are statistically more likely to be diagnosed with chronic medical conditions that alter the body’s normal reactions to heat. These include heart diseases, kidney diseases, and blood circulation conditions, among others. Finally, they have a higher likelihood of being prescribed medications that inhibit perspiration or impair the body’s other abilities to self-regulate temperature. Dehydration complicates things, increasing the risk of a heat illness.
When Heat Stroke Strikes, Know the Signs
Of the heat-related illnesses, heat stroke is ranked the most serious. Heat stroke happens when the body cannot control its temperature, which rises rapidly; along with that, the body loses the capacity to sweat and is unable to find cooling relief naturally. The temperature of the body can reach 106 degrees Fahrenheit in fifteen minutes or less. Because the elderly can suffer death or disability that remains permanent if emergency treatment is not provided, it is important to know the signs. These vary but include a body temperature that is extremely high, skin that does not sweat and is hot, red, and dry, throbbing headache, a strong, rapid pulse, nausea, dizziness, and heat exhaustion.
Heat Exhaustion: A Lesser Threat that Adds Up
The elderly are also more susceptible to heat exhaustion as they are to heat stroke, but the need for action is not as urgent. Heat exhaustion is milder and can develop when the body has had several days of exposure to higher temperatures and unbalanced or inadequate replacement of fluids. Of the varying warning signs, included symptoms are paleness, heavy sweating, cramping in the muscles, tiredness or weakness, vomiting or nausea, fainting, skin that is moist and cool, pulse rate that is weak and fast, and breathing that is shallow and fast.
When Heat Stress Threatens, Take These Steps
Rising temperatures should be treated with care by seniors, who should stay hydrated and cool. They should remain within air-conditioned buildings as much as possible. A fan should not be used as the sole source of cooling when the temperatures are reaching punishing highs outside. Water should be drunk more than usual, and the elderly should not wait until the impetus of feeling thirsty to drink. Natural light therapy should be skipped on risky days. The oven or stove should be avoided for cooking, and baths or cool showers should be sought to cool down. Light-colored clothing that is loose and lightweight is recommended for very hot days. When performing activities with seniors, be sure to keep to non-strenuous things in shade or air-conditioning.
Heat illnesses are dangerous for everyone but especially so for the elderly. If something like heat stroke should occur, cool the afflicted down as quickly as possible. Seek medical attention promptly.