These are the dog days of summer, and caregivers need to be on the alert for the dangerous effects of excessive heat on senior loved ones. Even those in normally good health can suffer from dehydration, heat stroke and death when exerting themselves during the heat of the day. For some seniors, even an outing in the safety of a car during a hot, sunny day can be risky.
Family caregivers are with their loved ones more than anyone else and can look for heat-related symptoms to prevent serious outcomes of hyperthermia, the most common threat to seniors or those with other physical or cognitive issues.
What is hyperthermia?
Most people have heard of hypothermia, a condition that occurs when someone is exposed to extremely cold weather or icy water. Hyperthermia is the opposite, and people of all ages can find themselves suffering from its symptoms, which include heat stroke, swollen legs from heat edema, a sudden feeling of dizziness, heat cramps and heat exhaustion. According to the National Institutes for Health, older people are at a significant increased risk of heat-related illnesses, so being on the alert can keep loved ones safe and healthy during the summer heat.
Ways to keep loved ones safe during hot summer days
If you must go out, plan activities for early morning or after the sun has gone down to reduce exposure to sun and heat. Older adults are more sensitive to heat, therefore caregivers can reduce their loved one’s chances of becoming overheated by limiting outdoor time.
Encourage your loved one to drink lots of water to reduce dehydration. Water is the best liquid to drink, and experts recommend avoiding hot tea and coffee, alcoholic beverages and some sports drinks. If your loved ones enjoy hot coffee, try a decaffeinated iced coffee instead. Caffeine is a diuretic, causing water to exit the body quickly, and should be discouraged.
Stay inside as much as possible, preferably in an air-conditioned space. Even if you plan to stay indoors, help your loved one choose the appropriate clothing for summertime. Loose, lightweight natural fabrics are best to wear because they are less constricting and are breathable.
Look for signs of heat-related stress
Sometimes your loved ones aren’t aware that they are suffering from a heat-related illness. This is why it’s so important to stay vigilant. Signs of heat exhaustion are dizziness, headache, heavy sweating, muscle cramps, tiredness, nausea and cold or clammy skin. If you see these signs, the Centers for Disease Control recommends giving your loved one a cool bath, using cool washcloths on the skin, and loosening their clothing. If symptoms last more than an hour, get worse or vomiting occurs, seek medical help immediately.
The CDC says signs of heat stroke are more severe and caregivers should call 911 if their loved one exhibits a temperature of 103 degrees; has hot, reddish skin; a fast pulse or passes out. There are other symptoms that caregivers should be aware of, and on the alert for, so having an emergency plan in place ahead of time is recommended.
While the coronavirus is still infecting people and causing illnesses and death in the United States, caregivers have to continue being extremely cautious about their loved ones’ health and safety. Summer heat makes the situation even more dangerous, but by being observant and knowledgeable about the symptoms of a heat-related illness, you can prevent a serious situation from occurring.
Lisa V. Tasi is the chair of Easton Commission for the Aging