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Elders and Summer Heat Dangers

Posted Jun 10 2013 8:30am

(Australians and other TGB readers below the equator can skip today's post or save it for next November.)

It was warm enough for a couple of days last week to be mildly uncomfortable reminding me that it is time for the annual TGB summer heat warning post.

In fact, there is an acronym we need to learn: EHE means Extreme Heat Event which, I'm pretty sure, needs no explanation.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are about 650 heat-related deaths each summer in the U.S. and the number has been rising.

In 2012, one half of those deaths affected people 65 and older and that's not unusual. Among the groups most vulnerable to heat-related illness or death are the very old, children four and younger, and those with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

A problem for elders is that as we get older, our body temperature regulators do not work as well as when we were young. Sometimes we don't feel thirst when our bodies need liquid so drink a lot of water during hot months.

Here are some other suggestions for getting you, your family, friends and neighbors through the hot season:

Wear light-colored, loose clothing.

Heat waves are not the time to skimp on the electric bill. Turn up the air conditioning when you need it.

If you do not have air conditioning, now is the time – before an EHE – to find out the locations of your city's cooling centers. Hundreds of cities use school gyms and other large gathering places to help people cool down during the worst of the day's heat.

You could also go the movies, the mall or visit a friend who has air conditioning during the afternoon.

If you have air conditioning, consider inviting a friend who does not to visit you during the hottest hours of the day.

If you must be out and about during a heat wave, do your errands in the early morning. Schedule appointments before the worst heat of the day.

Eat light meals that do not need cooking. High-water-content foods like cantaloupe, watermelon, apples and other fruits are good.

Keep window shades lowered and curtains drawn during the heat of the day.

Some medications for diabetes, high blood pressure and other conditions can inhibit the body's ability to cool itself. If your area is experiencing a prolonged heat wave, perhaps ask your physician if you can forgo or reduce the amount of those medications for the duration.

There are two heat-related conditions that are deadly serious and you should know the symptoms:

HEAT EXHAUSTION occurs when the body gets too hot. Symptoms are thirst, weakness, dizziness, profuse sweating, cold and clammy skin, normal or slightly elevated body temperature.

Move yourself or someone experiencing these symptoms to a cool place, drink cool liquids, take a cool bath or shower and rest.

HEAT STROKE is a medical emergency. It can cause brain damage so get thee or the affected person to a hospital. It occurs when body temperature reaches 104 or 105 in a matter of minutes.

Other symptoms include confusion; faintness; strong, rapid pulse; lack of sweating and bizarre behavior. Don't fool around with this.

This is a short video about the seriousness of excessive summer heat recorded a few days ago by Dr. Robin Ikeda, Acting Director of the CDC's National Center for Environmental Health:

The CDC has an entire section of its website devoted to staying healthy and cool during extreme heat , and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has posted a 60-page Excessive Heat Events Guidebook [pdf].

Enjoy the warm months, but stay cool and safe this summer too.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dan Gogerty: Never Go on Vacation with a Farmer

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