Summer is the season of long days, endless sunshine, and cool treats. We’ve trained ourselves to put on sunblock and a hat to protect against the sun but sunburn isn’t the only danger lurking outdoors in the summer. Extremely hot weather poses a risk to everyone, but seniors should take particular care to stay cool. This month, we help seniors and caregivers in San Diego understand the risks high temperatures pose and the best ways to endure them.
What is Hyperthermia?
Collectively, heat-related illnesses are called hyperthermia; essentially, too much heat. Conditions like heat edema, which cause swollen ankles and feet when it’s hot, and heat fainting (or syncope), dizziness caused by exertion in the heat, are relatively mild conditions. However, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke are more dangerous. In extreme heat conditions, everyone is susceptible to hyperthermia, but seniors are more at risk for reasons that home care companions for seniors should know.
Excessive Heat is a Risk For Seniors
Seniors don’t adjust to changes in air temperature as well as they did when younger. Their sweat glands and their blood circulation are both less efficient in response to heat. Seniors with heart, lung or kidney diseases, high blood pressure, significantly higher or lower weight than average, and salt intake restrictions will have an impaired response to higher temperatures. Certain medications (sedatives, diuretics, beta blockers and even antihistamines), combinations of medications, alcohol and caffeine can all reduce sweating – a key response to heat.
Symptoms of Hyperthermia
Hyperthermia’s variations can present slightly different signs, but if you’re providing home care in San Diego, you should be alert for these symptoms: “headache, nausea, skin that is dry, hot, and red with no sweating, muscle spasms, and extreme tiredness after exposure to heat.” If you do notice these symptoms, do the following immediately:
- “Get the victim out of the sun and into a cool place—preferably one that is air-conditioned.
- Offer fluids, but not alcohol or caffeine. Water, sports drinks, and fruit and vegetable juices are best.
- Encourage the person to sponge off with cool water.
- Urge the person to lie down and rest, preferably in a cool place.”
Heat Cramps or Heat Exhaustion or Heat Stroke?
What do you do next? The next step is to determine which heat-related condition your senior in home care in San Diego is experiencing.
Heat cramps are “muscle spasms that result from loss of large amount of salt and water through exercise. Heat cramps are associated with cramping in the abdomen, arms and calves… [H]eat cramps can be quite painful [and] they can be a symptom of heat stroke or heat exhaustion. Heat cramps can indicate a more severe problem in someone with heart disease or if they last for longer than an hour.” Drink fluids, replace electrolytes, salt and potassium, and rest.
Heat exhaustion is “a severe form of heat illness. It is a medical emergency. Heat exhaustion is caused by the loss of water and electrolytes through sweating… Symptoms of heat exhaustion include nausea, dizziness, irritability, headache, thirst, weakness, high body temperature, excessive sweating, and decreased urine output.” If untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, so administer first aid immediately.
Heat stroke “is a type of severe heat illness that results in a body temperature greater than 104.0 °F and confusion. Other symptoms include red, dry or damp skin, headache, and dizziness. Onset can be sudden or gradual.” Heat stroke, if left untreated, can cause unconsciousness, organ failure, and death. The body can’t cool itself down without help, so apply first aid and seek emergency medical treatment immediately.
Stay Cool Tips For Seniors
Seniors and their companion caregivers can avoid the complications of hyperthermia by following these ‘stay cool’ tips for summer:
- Drink more water than usual
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which will dehydrate you
- Don’t use your stove or oven to cook – that cranks up the indoor temp
- Take cool showers or baths
- Leave your windows open at night, if it’s safe, to cool your house down
- Wear light, loose clothing – no Spanx until fall!
- Be aware of the heat advisories, watches and warnings, and don’t overexert yourself! Stay in the air-conditioning as much as possible. Fans alone can’t compete with extreme heat. San Diego has Cool Zones where anyone can go to share the A/C. Find the closest one near you on this map: Cool Zone Finder. (Some accept pets, and some only accept service animals, so check first!)
And of course, our pets suffer in the heat as much as we do! Never leave them in a car, even for a ‘minute’, or outside in the summer heat and be careful about walking them on hot pavement – they’re not wearing shoes!