People over the age of 65 are most prone to heat related illnesses for several reasons; as we age we do not adjust as well to sudden changes in temperature, we are more likely to have a chronic medical condition, and are also more likely to take medication that can inhibit perspiration and impair the body’s ability to regulate its own temperature. During the summer months, staying hydrated is more important than ever to help reduce the risk of developing a heat related illness.
What can increase the risk of developing a heat related illness?
- Chronic illness
- Prescription medications that reduce sweating
- Overdressing for the weather conditions
- Diets that restrict salt intake
- Lack of access to air-conditioning
Staying hydrated can be one of the best defenses against a heat related illness. Some warning signs of dehydration are:
- Dry and sticky mouth
- Dry skin
- Decreased urination
- Cramping in the arms or legs
- Confusion or irritability
While avoiding extremely cold liquids that may cause cramps, treatment for mild dehydration should include consuming food and non-alcoholic beverages with sodium and potassium to restore the body’s electrolyte balance. However, if your physician generally limits fluid intake you should consult them prior to any changes in diet. More severe dehydration is a medical emergency and will need to be treated in the emergency room to replenish electrolytes and water through IV rehydration therapy.
Heat exhaustion is a mild form of heat-related illness that can develop after exposure to high temperatures and inadequate replacement of fluids. Early warning signs include:
- Excessive sweating
- Muscle cramps
- Fast and weak pulse
- Fast and shallow breathing
If not treated appropriately heat exhaustion can proceed to a more serious condition called Heat Stroke. To help prevent heat exhaustion from advancing, get to a cool place and take steps to lower your body temperature by:
- Having a fan or air conditioner blow on you
- Getting into a cool bath
- Applying cool wet towels to your body and head
- Consuming extra cool fluids
If symptoms do not subside in 5 to 10 minutes or start to get worse you could be dealing with a life-threatening emergency. Have someone call for immediate medical assistance.
Help protect your elderly neighbors, friends, and relatives by:
- Encouraging them to increase non-alcoholic fluid intake regardless of their activity level. However, if their physician generally limits fluid intake they should consult them prior to any changes in diet.
- Take them to air-conditioned locations if needed.
- Visit at risk adults at least twice a day and watch them for signs and symptoms.