Heat Prevention: The Importance of Keeping Seniors Cool This Summer

Guest post by Carmen Cruz-Torres, MSN, MHS, RN, CNE, National Association of Hispanic Nurses-Garden State Chapter

Carmen Torres_guest blogger.2We are now in the middle of summer and the heat is definitely on! As a mother of active 9 year old twins, we go through our extreme heat prevention measures drill every morning before camp; take your bottled water, wear light-colored, cool and loose fitting clothing, put on your sunscreen, wear a hat and please don’t overdo it on the playground. The twins usually do well and we’ve adopted these same precautions throughout the summer. One morning as we are running around during our heat prevention drill, my daughter Cailey asked, “Mom, what does grandma do when it’s hot out?” I responded, “She does the same things we do.” But, honestly I wasn’t sure what she was doing and I started thinking about heat prevention recommendations for our elderly parents, relatives and patients.

How can we ensure elderly people will do well in a heat wave or extremely hot days, especially since people over the age of 65 are vulnerable to extreme heat, as well as those with chronic medical conditions such as heart and lung disease? The number one prevention measure of heat related illness is to educate elders and their caregivers about the importance of heat prevention. From 1999 to 2010, a total of 7,415 deaths in the United States, which is an average of 618 per year, were associated with exposure to excessive natural heat.

According to the Center for Disease Control, air-conditioning is the number one protective factor against heat-related illness and death. During conditions of extreme heat, it is recommended that seniors spend time in air-conditioned locations such as shopping malls, public libraries, or public health sponsored heat-relief shelters in your area. Listen to local news and weather channels or contact your local public health department during extreme heat conditions for health and safety updates.

Additional heat prevention measures for the elderly include:

  • Drinking cool, nonalcoholic beverages and increase fluid intake, regardless of activity level.
  • Limiting outdoor activity to morning and evening hours.
  • Cutting down on exercise. If you must exercise, drink two to four glasses of cool, nonalcoholic fluids each hour. A sports beverage can replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat.
    • Warning: If you are on a low-salt diet, talk with your doctor before drinking a sports beverage.
  • Trying to rest often in shady areas. Protecting yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat (also keeps you cooler) and sunglasses
  • Applying sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher (the most effective products say “broad spectrum” or “UVA/UVB protection” on their labels).

sunTwo complications that can occur during extreme hot weather are heat stroke and heat exhaustion.

  1. Heat stroke occurs when the body is not able to regulate its temperature and can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.
    • Signs of heat stroke include: An extremely high body temperature (above 103°F, orally), red, hot, and dry skin with no sweating, rapid pulse, throbbing headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion and unconsciousness.
    • These symptoms are life-threatening and require that medical assistance be called immediately.
  2. Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids. It is the body’s response to an excessive loss of the water and salt contained in sweat. Those most prone to heat exhaustion are the elderly, people with high blood pressure, and people working or exercising in a hot environment.
    • Signs of heat exhaustion include:Heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea or vomiting and fainting.
    • Symptoms can subside with cooling measures such as drinking a cool, nonalcoholic beverage, resting in a shady place, taking a cool shower, bath or sponge bath, staying in an air-conditioned environment and wearing light-weight, lightly colored clothing.
    • If symptoms worsen or last longer than one hour, seek medical attention. Those with high blood pressure or heart disease should receive medical attention immediately.

Stay cool during extreme weather and don’t forget your pets can also be affected. Do not leave pets in a parked car, make sure to provide plenty of fresh water for your pets, and leave the water in a shady area.

You can find more detailed information by visiting the websites in the references. So, stay cool and enjoy what’s left of the summer. Article submitted on behalf of National Association of Hispanic Nurses-Garden State Chapter. Visit us at www.GardenState-NAHN.org.


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