Heat is a potentially deadly problem; nearly 400 Americans die from heat waves each year. Most of them are elderly people who often don’t realize when they are overheating and in danger. In Southwest Florida, this especially is a problem as temperatures here can reach very high levels. Combined with high humidity, summertime especially can be dangerous for the elderly.
Part of the problem lies in the fact that older people simply can’t handle the heat as well as younger people because they don’t sweat as effectively and have poorer circulation. Obesity, heart disease, dementia, diabetes and other chronic medical conditions can compound the risk. Certain medications, especially diuretics or those prescribed for hypertension and Parkinson’s disease.
To protect seniors, the standard advice is to get them into an air-conditioned building; have them dress lightly; and keep themselves hydrated.
But this is sometimes easier said than done, since poorer circulation also makes many seniors feel too cold in air-conditioned spaces and want to reach for a sweater, even when it’s hot out. Additionally, some seniors prefer other kinds of drinks to water, even though they may be too sugary for their sedentary lifestyles or filled with caffeine, which is dehydrating.
Caregivers should stay on the alert for signs of confusion or altered mental states in seniors who are out in hot weather, as it could be a sign of heat stroke. If the elderly person should collapse or pass out, it is a medical emergency and 911 should be called immediately. While waiting for help, remove as much clothing as possible and pour cold water all over the elderly person’s body. Should you’re the person become conscious once again, have a cold drink ready, as hydration is critical!
Here are some other tips to protect seniors from the heat:
- If elderly relatives complain of the cold indoors, turn up the air conditioning a bit. If they won’t stay inside, have them sit on a shady porch under a ceiling fan or near a box fan.
- To keep the house cooler, close curtains or blinds on the east side of the home during the morning, and the west side in the afternoon.
- Offer plenty of drinks that seniors prefer, but stay away from iced coffee and other highly caffeinated drinks, or sodas loaded with sodium, which is bad for heart health. Do not serve alcohol, which is dehydrating.
- Keep frozen treats available that have a high water and low sugar content, like sugar-free Popsicles (you can make your own using juice) or serve fruit with a high-water content, like watermelon.
- Seniors sometimes want to dress warmly, even in warm weather, so make sure that their clothing is lightweight, not form-fitting and light in color. Hats are useful, but make sure that they are loosely woven or ventilated so they don’t trap heat and broad-brimmed so they shade the entire face.