As any parent knows, hot weather can be dangerous. A study, conducted by the University of Chicago Medical Center, found that “40% of heat-related fatalities in the United States were among people over 65.” Because of this, caregivers have to make certain the homes their elderly parents are staying in are cool and that their aging loved ones do not overdo it with outdoor activities in the heat of the day.
While heat stroke is a possibility for any individual, it is particularly dangerous for seniors. The elderly are more vulnerable to heat stroke for myriad reasons including the fact that their ability to notice any changes in their body temperature decreases as they age. Underlying health conditions can also make it less possible for a senior to adapt to changes in temperature. Add to this the fact that many of the medications that a senior takes could lead to dehydration and you have many factors that could lead to your loved one suffering heat stroke.
Caregivers need to keep these tips in mind when caring for an aging loved one (and themselves and their families as well):
- Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of fluids can help ward off heat stroke. Make certain your loved ones drink even if they don’t feel thirsty. Caution them against drinking caffeinated drinks or alcohol as those can contribute to dehydration.
- Wear clothing suited to the weather. If it’s hot outside, urge them to wear lightweight clothing that is loose fitting. If they’re going outside, urge them to wear a wide-brimmed hat.
- Don’t go outdoors during the hottest part of the day. If your aging parents like to do yardwork or garden, urge them to do that in the morning or early evening when the sun is still out but when it is likely to be cooler.
- Exercise in moderation. It is good for your loved ones to be active but they should avoid any outdoor, strenuous activity during the hottest parts of the day. If they take a daily walk, urge them to do that before breakfast or after dinner.
- It’s the humidity that adds to the troubles. When the meteorologist talks about the “heat index” he is factoring in the moisture in the air as well as the temperature. The heat index is what the temperature “feels like” and that can be much hotter than the actual temperature.
- Add air conditioning to the home if possible. Many seniors complain of feeling cold “all the time” and while that may be true, if the heat index has soared and the temperature is at uncomfortable levels you may want to put a small air conditioner in one room of the house and ask them to please use that room when it gets hot. Fans can provide a great cross breeze, but if the air is still, the temperature and humidity high, this may not be enough to keep them cool. If they are in an air conditioned room and feel the need to wear a light sweater that is better than sitting in an overheated room.
- Understand the signs of heat stroke. Individuals suffering heatstroke could complain of nausea, dizziness, rapid heart beat, breathing problems, headache or even fainting. If your aging loved one feels any of these symptoms, he or she should immediately activate their home medical alert device to summon assistance. This should be their first plan of action when they’re feeling ill; once the button is pressed, the trained operators will summon emergency medical assistance as well as place calls to the caregivers that are listed on the contact form. Receiving treatment for potential heat stroke needs to be started as soon as possible.
Enjoy the warm summer days ahead, but do so safely!
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