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How heat affects the elderly and how you can help

posted Jul 18, 2016, 8:14 AM by Mary Peck

Gail Wilcox, ombudsman supervisor at South Western Oklahoma Development Authority Area Agency on Aging (SWODA AAA), advises that the elderly are more likely to experience the effects of hot weather than younger adults. Physically, the elderly cannot adjust to significant changes in temperature as well as younger adults can. That combined with the effects of prescription drugs; which also reduce the body’s ability to adjust to temperature changes, may exacerbate the side effects they may experience. Many medications the elderly take may cause dehydration or affect the ability of their heart, blood vessels or sweat glands. This in turn would affect their overall ability to respond to high temperatures.

When the body's temperature hits 104 degrees Fahrenheit, heat stroke sets in and can cause permanent brain damage or even death. Signs that someone is suffering from heat stroke may include the following:

-A strong, rapid pulse.

-Lack of sweating.

-Dry, flushed skin.

-Faintness or staggering.

-Mental status changes such as: confusion, combativeness, disorientation or even coma.

Another concern concerning high body temperatures would be heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke when the body fails to regulate its own temperature. The affected individual becomes confused, lethargic and may have a seizure. Their skin stops sweating and their body temperature may exceed 106 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include the following:

-Thirst.

-Weakness.

-Profuse sweating.

-Nausea and/or vomiting.

-Headache or lightheadedness.

-Cold or clammy skin.

-Normal to slightly high temperature.

If you suspect someone is suffering from heat exhaustion, you should do the following:

-Move them into an air-conditioned environment or a cool, shaded area.

-Provide fluids such as water and juice. Avoid alcohol and caffeine.

-Recommend a cool shower or bath.

-Encourage them to rest in a cool area.

You can also use other items available to cool the body temperature down such as the following:

-Cold soda cans placed under the arm (armpit area).

-Rags with ice placed inside and put around the neck, under the arms, across the back, bends of the legs.

-You want to take care not to leave the ice exposed to the skin for too long, be sure to use a thick rag or towel when using this method. Damage to the skin can occur.

Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are very serious and can be life threatening. If you suspect someone is suffering from these signs, you should call 911 immediately. The best way to prevent heat-related illnesses in the elderly would be to monitor them as often as possible. Also, make sure to keep them hydrated by providing plenty of fluids. Water is always the best bet.

For information about services for area aging, please contact Gail Wilcox, SWODA AAA ombudsman supervisor, 800-627-4882, ext. 132, or by email at gail@swoda.org.

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