It’s summer! That means fun, sun, and possibly…heat stroke. For the elderly, especially those with underlying health issues, intense heat and humidity can be a dangerous situation. As we age, our bodies lose some of their natural ability to regulate temperature, so extra care needs to be taken. Luckily, heatstroke is preventable with proper precautionary measures.
Heat Stroke: Steps to Take
Drink water all day long. Encourage seniors to have a refillable water bottle close by at all times. Water bottles are less likely to spill than a glass of water, are portable for going out and about, and usually hold more than a glass of water. On really hot days, fill half of the bottle with ice cubes before adding water so it will stay cooler longer. Dehydration hampers the body’s ability to regulate its temperature.
Dress for the weather. If going outside, lightweight loose clothing and a wide-brimmed hat are musts to reduce sun exposure. Indoors, anything comfortable, breathable, and lightweight is fine. On very hot and humid days, encourage seniors to take a cool bath or shower midday. They could also do a quick sponge bath, or splash their face with cool water as needed throughout the day.
Hide out inside. During the hottest hours of the day, typically 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., encourage seniors to stay indoors. If mom or dad is a gardener or likes to take walks, encourage them to do so in the early morning or evening hours when the air is cooler. On the hottest days, or if an advisory is issued, it is best to stay indoors altogether and to avoid strenuous activities. This is a good time for having a movie marathon, listening to an audiobook, or catching up with friends by telephone.
Go out, but carefully. A string of super-hot days may leave normally active seniors feeling cooped up. Head out to an air-conditioned library, restaurant, shopping mall, or cinema. Or just encourage them to pop over to the neighbor’s air-conditioned living room for a visit.
Keep the house cool. Encourage your loved one to pull the shades during the hottest hours of the day, but to open windows in the early morning and evening to let cool air in. Window fans or portable air-conditioning units are good alternatives for those without central air conditioning, especially if they can be aimed at a bed or favorite sitting spot.
Signs of heat stroke. Of course prevention is always best, but it’s also important to know the warning signs of impending heat stroke. Nausea, dizziness, a fast heartbeat, headache, elevated body temperature, and a faster rate of breathing are all signs that a person needs to cool down quickly. Move them into an air-conditioned room or have them sit in front of a fan, and sponge them off with cool washcloths. Have them take sips of cool water and rest while their body heat returns to normal. If symptoms are anything more than mild, call for medical help and do your best to keep your loved one cool while you wait.
During heat waves or when advisories have been issued, be sure to check in with your loved one at least once a day. And remember, while getting through the worst of summer’s heat can be a grueling affair, cooler weather is just around the corner.