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Elder Care

Protecting the Elderly from Heat Stroke

The National Institute on Aging (NIA) lists the following health-related factors that may increase risk of hyperthermia (high body temperature) in the elderly:

  • Poor blood circulation and inefficient sweat glands
  • Heart, lung, and kidney disease
  • Salt-restricted diet due to high blood pressure
  • Inability to perspire caused by diuretics, sedatives, and some blood pressure medications
  • Being very overweight or underweight
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Being dehydrated

The NIA says that older people should stay inside when it is hot and humid, especially if there is an air pollution alert.  It is crucial that people without air conditioning or fans go somewhere that has air conditions.

Hyperthermia

Heat cramps result in painful tightening of muscles.  They are the first signs that your body is too hot, and needs fluids.

Heat syncope, or dizziness, can occur when people are taking a beta-blocker for their heart and are not used to hot weather.  Putting one’s legs up and resting will stop the dizziness.

Heat exhaustion is the last stage before heat stroke.  It is a warning sign that your body cannot cool itself anymore.  Symptoms include thirst, dizziness, weakness, nausea, and profuse sweating.  Body temperature will remain normal, but skin becomes cold and clammy.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke results when body temperature reaches above 104 degrees Fahrenheit.  Symptoms include confusion, combativeness, strong rapid pulse, lack of sweating, dry flushed skin, faintness, staggering, and possible coma.  People with heat stroke must seek immediate medical attention.  While waiting for help to arrive, move the person to a cooler place and offer fluids (but not alcohol or caffeine).  Apply cold, wet cloths to the wrist, neck, armpit, and groin, or help them take a shower.

The NIA says:  “Hundreds of people die from hyperthermia each year during very hot weather.  Most are over 50 years old.  The temperature outside does not have to hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit for you to be at risk for a heat-related illness.”