Weather is, at best, unpredictable, but a heat wave poses as much of a health risk for your aging parents as do winter storms or hurricanes. It is not unheard of for the frail elderly to succumb to extreme heat.
There are many mitigating factors that can cause this, but there are also many ways to keep the senior in your life safe and protected during a heat wave.
What are the dangers of a heat wave?
Heat waves can be dangerous for anyone of any age, but they are more dangerous for the elderly, babies and young children. As you age, your body is less able to regulate its temperature; it’s not unheard of for an elderly person to say they’re cold when everyone around them is feeling the effects of the heat. Because of this, your aging parent may be more impacted by the effects of the heat than they realize. As the body’s temperature control centers are less sensitive, they may not “initiate the correct cooling mechanisms within the body when it becomes overheated” and this can lead to heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses. Medications can also lead to insensitivity to heat fluctuations.
While the elderly may be able to sense a change in temperature in their home, a heat wave brings prolonged excessive high temperatures and if it persists their body simply may not have time to acclimate. This can also occur when seniors take a vacation to a climate that is hotter than the one they’re accustomed to living in.
The most serious effect of a heat wave is heat stroke. Heat stroke does have warning signs: cramps and exhaustion. One way to prevent it is by staying hydrated because if your body loses water and salt (through sweating) it can be fatal and cause your organs to shut down.
Safety measures for seniors
Whether your aging parents live with you or live alone, they should be aware of the change in temperatures in ways other than relying on their perception. Thermostats should be checked for the temps inside the home and having a thermometer outside is also a good idea. If the temperature rises, they need to begin taking steps to stay cool. Remember, as you age, you may not sweat as much as when you were younger, so relying on sweating as an indicator that you are hot is not reliable.
Ways to cool off
There are several steps that can be taken to lower body temperature and the temperature of the home, here are a few:
- Dress in light colored and lightweight clothing.
- Stay out of the sun.
- Close the curtains in the home to prevent the sun from heating up the interior.
- Run the air conditioner.
- Stay indoors and don’t plan on walking or exercising out of doors until the sun goes down and the temperatures drop.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Stock up on drinks that contain electrolytes as they are more hydrating than water.
- Take a cool shower or place cool water compresses on your body to help cool it down.
- If you don’t have an air conditioner place fans throughout the house, and open the windows slightly to create a cross breeze.
- Pay attention to the early signs of heat-related impairments including: cramps, nausea, headaches and exhaustion. If these occur, contact a medical professional immediately. For those seniors with home medical alert devices, help is merely a push of a button away when heat stroke strikes.
Staying tuned to a local weather or news station is one of the best ways to know what the weather will be like and if you need to take any precautions.