Protecting Seniors from Dangerous Summer Heat
Author: Eileen Lambert
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that extreme heat causes 658 deaths in the U.S. on average each year. This is more deaths than from tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and lightning combined.
Most of these deaths are elderly people who often don't realize when they are overheating and in danger. Many, if not all, of these deaths, are preventable.
Part of the problem is that older people simply can’t handle the heat as well as younger people because they don’t sweat as effectively and have poorer circulation. Obesity, heart disease, dementia, diabetes, and other chronic medical conditions can compound the risk.
Caregivers should watch for signs of confusion or altered mental state in seniors during hot weather, as it could be a sign of heat stroke. If the elderly person should collapse or pass out, call 911 immediately. While you are waiting for help, remove as much clothing as possible and pour cold water all over the elderly person's body. If possible get the person to drink something cold, as hydration is critical.
Here are some additional tips to protect seniors from the heat:
If elderly relatives complain of the cold indoors, increase the thermostat temperature by a few degrees. If they won't stay inside, have them sit on a shady porch near a fan. If the elderly person doesn't have air conditioning or refuses to use it in a heat wave, close curtains or blinds on the east side of the home during the morning, and the west side in the afternoon. In addition, make sure they spend a few hours each day in an air-conditioned space like a mall or theater.
Avoid alcohol, iced coffee, and other highly caffeinated drinks, because they are dehydrating. Also skip soda, which is loaded with sodium and bad for heart health. Drink lots of water and keep frozen treats available that have a high water and low sugar content, like sugar-free Popsicles. Also serve fruit with a high water content, like watermelon.
Make sure their clothing is light in color, lightweight fabric, and loose fitting. Hats are helpful, but make sure they are loosely woven or ventilated, so they don't trap heat and are broad-brimmed so they shade the entire face.