senior health walkersThink back to your summer days as a child. Long before social media, cells phones, laptops, the Internet and even video games, you probably spent most of the days outside.

If you’re like many of your generation, it was not unusual to return home only for meals, threatening storms and your mother’s increasingly angry calls to come in out of the dark. Back then, you headed off for adventure and weren’t about to be deterred by a little – or a lot – of heat.

But today, although you may still be young at heart, you’re not a kid anymore and you may be more susceptible to heat-related illnesses and injuries than you once were. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 618 people in the United States are killed by extreme heat every year.

Carrie Fleckenstein, St. Luke’s University Health Networks Senior Network Director, Senior Care Services, advises older adults to take extra care during warm summer days, especially when participating in outdoor activities with children and grandchildren.

“Every summer, we treat a substantial number of older adults in our hospitals’ emergency departments for heat exhaustion and heat stroke,” Fleckenstein says.

Heat exhaustion is the overheating of the body and may cause excessive sweating, dizziness, confusion, fast heart rate, nausea or vomiting. Heatstroke is a more extreme state of heat exhaustion characterized by a fever of 104°F or higher. Heatstroke can cause shock, organ failure brain damage or even death.

“Heat-related illnesses are very serious, particularly for the elderly,” Fleckenstein says. “As we age, our bodies become less able to regulate our internal temperature. Compared to younger people, most seniors don’t produce as much sweat, which is one of the body’s ways to cool.

Chronic medical conditions and prescription medications may further reduce the body’s ability to respond to heat, she added. Being obese also increases the risk of heat-related illnesses.“To make matters worse, many older people have heart disease,” she says. “The body’s attempts to regulate temperature may put too much stress on the heart resulting in a heart attack.”

Complicating matters further, many older adults have poor circulation and may not even realize they are becoming overheated. Also, many seniors do not register thirst. Some don’t like to drink water and as a result may become dehydrated, which can lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

“On hot days, drink lots of fluids, even if you don’t feel thirsty,” Fleckenstein says. “Also, be sure to check in on elderly parents, friends and neighbors, especially if they do not have air conditioning. Make sure their home is not too hot and that they are getting plenty to drink.”  

In addition, Fleckenstein offers these 8 tips for staying safe on hot summer days:
Stay in air-conditioning as much as you can. If your home doesn’t have air-conditioning, visit a friend or go to a public place with air conditioning, such as a senior center or library, or catch an afternoon movie. If you have an older relative or friend who doesn’t have air-conditioning, offer to have them stay with you during heat waves.
Drink more water than usual and don’t wait until you’re thirsty. If you are on medication, especially water pills, check with your doctor about how much you should be drinking. Although it’s best to limit beverages with high sugar-content, it’s better to drink fruit juice or iced tea than nothing at all. Also, try a frozen treat like Italian ice or a popsicle.
Eat out or order in to avoid heating your kitchen
Wear loose and lightweight clothing. If you’re in the sun, avoid dark-colored clothing that absorbs heat.
Avoid very strenuous activities. Be sure to take plenty of breaks while working around your house.
If you must be outside, plan to get up early or head out just before sundown when it’s cooler.
Get plenty of rest.
If you become overheated, get to a cool place right away. Take a cool bath or shower or apply cool cloths.

Heat-Exhaustion and Heat-Stroke:  
What You Need to Know

HEAT EXHAUSTION
Symptoms of heat exhaustion may include one or more of the following:
Heavy sweating
Cold, pale, and clammy skin
Fast, weak pulse
Nausea or vomiting
Muscle cramps
Feeling tired or weak
Feeling dizzy
Headache
Fainting (passing out)

If you have symptoms of heat exhaustion:
Move to a cool place
Loosen your clothes
Put cool, wet cloths on your body or take a cool bath
Sip water
Do not drink alcohol
 
Get medical help right away if:
You are throwing up
Your symptoms get worse
Your symptoms last longer than 1 hour

HEAT STROKE
Symptoms of heat stroke include:
Headache
Dizziness
Nausea
Confusion
Hot, red, dry, or damp skin
Fast, strong pulse
High body temperature (103°F or higher)
Loss of consciousness (passing out)
When these symptoms are present, call 911 immediately. Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition.
Also:
Move to a cooler place
Lower the person’s temperature with cool cloths or a cool bath
Do not give the person anything to drink

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