Senior Beat: Summer brings heat-related risks for seniors
By Carol Higgins Taylor
Special to The Weekly
It’s almost the 4th of July but you wouldn’t really know it based on the weather. We talk regularly about heat related illness and how to protect yourself and your elderly loved ones. But given the fact that I had my furnace on last week, I feel a bit silly. However, I have been around long enough to know that despite the chilly, rainy spring, the heat is coming. And when it does, you need to be prepared. Plus, while shopping recently, I noticed air conditioners on sale at several big box stores. I recommend getting one now because if/when a heat wave hits, you may be out of luck.
As we age, our bodies cannot regulate temperature the way a younger one can. Since I turned 60, I do find myself walking around the house asking, “Is it cold in here?” Might be all in my head, wouldn’t be the first time, but still, times they are a changin’ as Bob Dylan sang.
Just as with cold weather, hot weather can be hazardous to your well-being. And heat related illness can be serious.
The National Institute on Aging explains who is at risk for heat-related illness:
–Age-related changes to the skin such as impaired blood circulation and inefficient sweat glands.
–Heart, lung and kidney diseases, as well as any illness that causes general weakness or fever.
–High blood pressure or other conditions that require changes in diet. For example, people on salt-restricted diets may be at increased risk. Again, discuss with your doctor.
–Reduced sweating, caused by medications such as diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers and certain heart and blood pressure drugs.
–Taking several drugs for various conditions. It is important, however, to continue to take prescribed medication and discuss possible problems with a physician.
–Being substantially overweight or underweight.
–Drinking alcoholic beverages.
Learn more at www.nia.nih.gov.
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are not to be taken lightly. Heat exhaustion, which occurs when the body gets too hot, has symptoms such as: thirst, confusion, weakness, becoming uncoordinated, and nausea.
If you experience any of these symptoms or you are with an older person who is, the following treatments can provide some relief: showering, bathing or sponging off with cool water, drinking fluids such as water and juice, and lying down to rest, preferably in a cool place. If you are outside in the sun, find shelter immediately.
While heat exhaustion can be addressed with the above steps, heat stroke is another story. It can be deadly so immediate medical attention is crucial.
The list of possible symptoms includes: A body temperature of 104 degrees, headache, faintness, staggering, strong rapid pulse, dry flushed skin, lack of sweating, and vomiting.
If you or someone else is exhibiting any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately.
As we age, our bodies’ ability to release heat, by sweating, is blunted making it particularly dangerous for seniors to stay in very warm environments for long periods of time.
While drinking more liquids is vital, check with your healthcare provider before changing your normal routine, especially if you have had limits put on your fluid intake or have been prescribed water pills.
Again, buy an air conditioner. You can get a small one for about $125. It’s a great investment in your comfort.
A few years ago, I wanted to get my mother an air conditioner. She was adamant she did not want one. She would be fine, she said, repeatedly. She was tough Maine stock. Sure. I got her one anyway. I paid a premium for it because I waited too long and at that point only one story had them in stock. But she loved it and can’t wait every season to have it put in. Moral of the story, don’t be a hero. Buy an air conditioner. Do it now.
Summer is short lived in Maine so enjoy it but be cautious. And remember if it is warm and humid, leave your dog at home. A car can turn deadly in just a few minutes, even with the windows down.
Carol Higgins Taylor is an advocate for seniors and owns Bryant Street Public Relations in Bangor. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.