Elder Care: Heat Stroke Risk
Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect - July 22, 2013
Hot Temperatures Dangerous for Elderly
A new study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that even a 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit increase in temperature during the summer can increase death rates for elderly people who have a chronic health condition.1 One health risk posed to the elderly as a result of rising temperatures is heat stroke.
Heat stroke occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature: the body’s temperature rises rapidly, the body loses its ability to sweat and it is unable to cool down. Body temperatures can rise to 106 degrees or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. The elderly are often at a high risk of heat stroke because they take medications that can impair the body’s ability to regulate its temperature. The elderly are simply not as adaptable to changes to the weather.
During the summer months, it is important for families to take steps to prevent the risk of heat stroke among the elderly.
- Drink liquids. The Institute of Medicine determined that an adequate intake for men is roughly 13 cups a day and for women an average of 9 cups a day.2 This amount varies so always consult with your doctor about his or her recommendation for liquid intake. Avoid caffeinated, alcoholic or sugary drinks because these tend to dehydrate the body.
- Wear lightweight clothing. Because heat stroke occurs when the body is unable to cool itself down, wearing dark, heavy clothing will only speed up this process. Wearing hats, sunscreen and staying in the shade are lighter alternatives to long sleeves and pants if you need to keep the sun off of your skin.
- Rest indoors. The elderly should make every effort to remain indoors during the warmest part of the day, generally between 3:00 and 6:00 PM.
- Take a cool shower. After being outdoors, stepping into a cold shower may help bring down the body temperature of an elderly person quickly. Placing ice on the back of the neck and wrists may help cool down the body as well.
- Do not overexert yourself. The summer months are a time to enjoy the outdoors; however, it is also a time to be conscious of body signals.
If you have elderly neighbors or relatives, protect them from heat-related stress by watching for signs of heat stroke. Visit them throughout the day and monitor their skin color and energy level. Take them to air-conditioned facilities if they are unable to transport themselves. Know the signs of heat stroke so you can recognize it if it happens to you or a loved one.