The heat can take a toll on everyone, but the elderly are particularly vunerable
Elderly people, specifically those over 75 are more vulnerable to hot weather when compared to younger adults and this can become a serious problem throughout the summertime, causing health issues that can be fatal. It is important to know what you can do about keeping elderly people safe and what to look out for if they do become exposed to the heat for too long.
Signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses in the elderly
Being too hot for too long can cause multiple illnesses all grouped under hyperthermia. Below are some of the illnesses caused by heat:
Heat Syncope – Heat syncope is sudden dizziness that can happen whilst a person is being active in the heat. If a person is not used to the heat or takes beta-blockers for their heart, then they are even more likely to feel faint. To make the sudden dizziness go away, move the person to a cooler area with a glass of water and their feet raised up off the ground.
Heat Edema – Heat edema is the swelling of feet and ankles when a person gets hot. To prevent this, put the persons feet up off of the ground and the swelling should reduce. If the swelling does not go down quickly, make sure they check with their doctor as this could be due to something more serious.
Heat Exhaustion – heat exhaustion tries to warn the body that it can no longer keep itself cool. Someone feeling heat exhaustion may feel dizzy, weak, thirsty, nauseous and uncoordinated. Even though the person’s body temperature may be relatively normal, they will feel clammy and cold, but still sweaty.
It is also known that some people who have heat exhaustion may have a rapid pulse alongside the other symptoms. Rest them in a cool place and make sure they drink lots of water. If they are not feeling better, make sure they seek medical help as heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke.
Heat Cramps – Heat cramps are the tightening of muscles in the arms, stomach and legs which can be painful. Cramps can be a result of exercise and can feel like the body is moist and cool, despite the body temperature and pulse staying relatively normal. Similar to the other symptoms above, seek shade to rest and try to cool their body down. Encourage them to drink plenty of fluids (not caffeine or alcohol).
Heat Stroke – Heat stroke requires medical attention straight away. Elderly people who live in a home without fans or air conditioning are at the most risk of this. The signs of heat stroke are:
- Confusion and acting strangely
- Agitation and grouchiness
- Becoming unconscious or fainting
- Body temp of over 40°C (104°F)
- Either a slow weak pulse or a rapid pulse
- Dry, flushed skin and no sweating even when it is hot
How to keep the elderly safe in hot weather
Things elderly people can do to reduce their risk of illnesses due to heat:
- Drink lots of fluids such as water and fruit juices. Try to avoid caffeine and alcohol.
- Keep their house as cool as possible. Limit the use of the oven and other appliances that radiate heat, keep the blinds/curtains closed throughout the hottest part of the day and keep windows open overnight.
- Try to ask for a lift from friends or family or take a taxi to locations rather than waiting at the bus stop in the heat.
- Dress appropriately for the weather by wearing natural fabrics, such as cotton, rather than synthetic fabrics that are not as breathable.
- Try to do minimal exercise and don’t exercise outdoors when it is hot.
- Avoid heavily crowded places by planning trips outside of rush hour times.