Summer Heat and the Risks for Seniors

by Misty Kevech, HHQI RN Project Coordinator

As we enter into the “Dog Days of Summer,” we have seen triple-digit temperatures across a large portion of the U.S. Seniors are at high risk for heat stress, especially related to sudden changes in temperatures. Summer heat also produces violent storms that can disrupt electricity resulting in the lack of air conditioning or fans for cooling.

stay cool

(CDC, 2017)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends keeping seniors cool and hydrated. Work with patient and family to have an emergency action plan for excessive heat days or power outages.

  • Stay in air-conditioned buildings. Teach patients that fans don’t work well in the heat as their main cooling system.
    • Have a backup location list, if needed, such as:
      • Home of a friend or family member
      • Local cooling shelter
    • Discuss transportation needs, if applicable.
  • Be proactive in drinking non-caffeine fluids even before feeling thirsty, unless patient is on fluid-restrictions.
    • Ask practitioner about specifics for fluid restriction during hot weather.
  • Avoid using the stove or oven for cooking.
    • Consider microwave, cold foods, or if able, have food delivered from restaurant.
  • Wear loose, lightweight, light colored clothing like cottons.
    • Try to wear shoes that are well-ventilated and socks that repel perspiration.
    • Foot powders and antiperspirants can also assist with sweating even the feet
  • Take cool showers or baths.
    • If unable, use cool washcloths to exposed body parts.
  • Avoid a lot of activity and get plenty of rest.
  • Arrange a system for the patient to be checked on either by family, friends, or neighbors.
    • This could be a phone call.
    • Engage the patient to check on his/her friend and they can do the same in return.

Medications are a concern in the summer heat too. The elderly have other medical problems and medications that can affect the body’s response to the hot temperatures.

  • Antihistamines and anticholinergics, often found in allergy and cold medicines, can decrease the body’s ability to sweat and cool the body’s temperature.
  • Antipsychotics affects the brain center where body temperature is regulated.
  • Beta-blockers, ace receptor blockers, ace inhibitors, and calcium channel blockers slow the heart beat and reduce blood pressure. This makes it more difficult for the body to rid the skin of heat.
  • Ephedrine, amphetamines, and cocaine increase the body’s metabolism and internal body temperature, as well as constricting the blood vessels.
  • Other medications such as diuretics can cause dehydration.

Medication storage should be evaluated during the hot weather. Drug manufacturers recommend that most prescribed and over-the-counter medications should be stored in a temperature controlled room between 58 and 86 degrees. Heat and moisture can alter the effectiveness of the medication.

Smith-Caldwell Drug Store provides a few tips on summer storage:

  • Store your medication in a low-humidity, low temperature location and also out of reach of children.
    • Consider:
      • Cabinet in kitchen not near the stove or oven
      • Linen closet
      • If traveling with medication, keep in a purse or a small cooler or tote
    • Avoid:
      • Medicine cabinets in the bathroom (too much humidity)
      • Cabinets near the stove and oven
      • On top of the refrigerator (motor generates heat)
      • Leaving medication in a car

HHQI_Heat Related IllnessesTake actions by educating seniors on the signs of heat stress or heat stroke and what to do about it. Consider providing a copy of the CDC’s Warning Signs & Symptoms of Heat-Related Illness handout for your elderly patients, family, or friends. This tool is similar to a ZONE tool with a column of signs and symptoms and then a column for actions. Involve patient’s families to check on their relatives often during this time of the year, and know what to look for and what to do.

Help seniors enjoy or survive the “Dog-days of summer.” Be safe and cool!

 

Resources: 

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