Take Heed in the Heat

posted Jul 11, 2012, 2:45 PM by Latia Murray
With the summer temperatures exceeding 100 degrees it's important to know how to stay safe and avoid heat related illnesses, and 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," said Samantha Walker, Ombudsman Supervisor at South Western Oklahoma Development Authority. "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:
- A strong, rapid pulse
- Lack of sweating
- Dry, flushed skin
- Faintness or staggering
- Mental status changes such as: confusion, combativeness, disorientation or even coma.

"Fortunately, we don't have any heat-related calls. We suggest, in most cases the obvious, HYDRATE, HYDRATE, HYDRATE," said Mike Karlin, Assistant Weatherford Fire Chief. "Try to limit outdoor activities during the heat of the day; sometimes this is not possible, but with the intense heat we are dealing with, you must look out for your health and the health of those around you."

Another concern in regard to 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:
- Thirst
- Weakness
- Profuse sweating
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Headache or lightheadedness
- Cold or clammy skin
- Normal to slightly high temperature

"Every summer we have a few encounters with heat-related issues," said Rick Shelton, Elk City Fire Chief. "We encourage them to stay in as much as possible, but if they know they need to be out during the heat of the day, start hydrating early and wear lighter colored clothing with a hat to shade the head, face, ears and neck. It's also important for family and friends to check on each other to insure safety."

If you suspect someone is suffering from heat exhaustion, you should:
- 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.

"When taking residents on an outing, whether it be to the doctor or for recreation, Nursing facilities can pack a cooler with ice and cold drinks to insure close access to water and ways to keep the body cool in case of a vehicle breaking down, etc." said Walker.

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

"When it comes to the heat, the main thing is to stay inside," said Randy Carpenter, Interim Clinton Fire Chief. "It's also good to shut off rooms not frequently used, and to eat light meals that don't require a lot of cooking; the extra heat from cooking heats up the home."

To contact the SWODA Ombudsman Program, contact Samantha Walker at 580-562-4882.

**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!