As the summers continue to grow longer and hotter, it is becoming more important for people, particularly older adults, to understand the symptoms of heat-related illnesses. The human body works hard to maintain a normal temperature, but excessive heat forces the body to work harder than normal. In essence, the heat forces the body to work beyond its limits, which can be a dangerous and even deadly problem for older adults.
As we age, the body’s ability to keep cool (known as thermoregulation) can become compromised. One of the ways the body naturally responds to rising temperatures is by dilating blood vessels in the skin, which draws heat from inside the body to the skin’s surface. Perspiration also helps cool us down, but as we get older, the ability to perspire can diminish and blood vessels don’t dilate as efficiently.
“Older adults are at risk for dehydration, which is severe can lead to a host of problems,” says Michelle Eslami, MD, a geriatrician at UCLA Health System. “It may cause confusion, low blood pressure, the inability to walk, and affect kidney function. Also, patients who are dehydrated do appear to be more at risk for developing urinary tract infections in this age group.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO
These strategies can help keep you safe this summer:
- Stay hydrated by drinking water before, during and after strenuous activities. Don’t wait until you are thirsty, because at that point you’re
already starting to become dehydrated.
- Stay in the shade or in an air-conditioned space during the hottest part of the day—usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Alter your exercise routine to include more indoor activities when the temperature climbs.
Problems that can affect seniors “Heat stroke and heat exhaustion and overexposure to the sun causing sunburn are all problems that can affect people during the summertime,” Dr. Eslami says.
Seniors are more vulnerable to hot weather for a variety of reasons. Some have underlying chronic conditions that either impair thermoregulation by the brain and nervous system. Some of those conditions include cardiovascular, neurological, and psychiatric disorders, obesity, frailty, and loss of ability to sweat. Also, some medications, such as diuretics and other blood pressure drugs, sedatives, and tranquilizers may interfere with the body’s cooling mechanisms. Others may have mobility difficulties that prevent them from getting out of a hot environment. Even when dehydrated, many older people don’t feel thirsty and so don’t compensate for their volume loss.
What to do to stay safe When you find yourself becoming uncomfortable in the heat, you should, if possible, move to a cooler location out of the sun and drink fluids, though not those with caffeine or alcohol, because they promote fluid loss. Also try taking a shower, bath, or sponging off with cool water and/or lying down to rest in a cool place.
Signs of heat-related problems include heat cramps, a tightness of muscles in the stomach, arms, or legs, as well as extreme thirst, dizziness, weakness, loss of coordination, and nausea. Headaches and confusion may accompany serious hyperthermia. If you start to experience these symptoms and the steps mentioned above do not relieve them, call your doctor or go to a hospital emergency room.
“Keep hydrated, wear proper skin covering, use sunscreen, and avoid alcoholic beverages before outdoor activities, especially in hot weather,” Dr. Eslami warns. “Also avoid long periods of sitting in direct sunlight.”
The best defense against overheating is staying hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids, at least eight glasses of water or fruit or vegetable juices, and more on hot days, as the heat increases loss of fluid from the skin.
Modifying your environment is also critical throughout the summer. Keep fans or air conditioning on, if possible. If you don’t have fans or an air conditioner, keep windows open at night and try to promote cross ventilation by opening windows on two sides of the room. Cover windows that are in direct sunlight by keeping curtains or shades drawn. And try to get to an air-conditioned environment for at least part of the day. Maybe you could go to a local shopping mall, a movie theater, a senior center, or a friend’s house.
Also, check your local Area Agency on Aging or similar senior services organization to see if they may provide window air conditioners for qualifying seniors. Local programs may also exist to help you pay your cooling bills.
The post Protect Yourself from Heat Stroke and Other Summer Dangers appeared first on University Health News.
Powered by WPeMatico