Who doesn’t love spending time outdoors in the summer sun? However, even though spending time in the sunshine can be fun, during the summer months, it’s important to be aware and take proactive steps to protect yourself and your aging loved one from heat stroke and exhaustion. As people get older they are at a greater risk of these conditions, as our bodies adapt less to the high temperatures. Heat stroke and heat exhaustion can be extremely harmful and potentially fatal for those aged 65 and older so learn how you can prevent it while still enjoying your summer.
What is Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion?
Heat stroke occurs when your internal body temperature becomes uncontrollable and rises rapidly. In this scenario the body is unable to produce sweat (which is produced in order to keep us cool). This is a very serious condition and a person’s body temperature can rise to 106 degrees or higher within just 10-15 minutes (CDC). Heat exhaustion has a less dramatic impact on the body and usually takes longer to develop but is harmful nonetheless.
You should be on the lookout for the following signs of heat stroke symptoms if you are caring for an older adult and plan to be outdoors:
- Extremely high body temperature
- A strong, rapid pulse
- Fast breathing
- Lack of sweating
- Red, hot and/or dry skin
- Change in mood or state-of-mind, such as confusion, combativeness, disorientation
If you see any of these signs or are concerned you should get your aging loved one inside immediately, contact your physician or in an emergency call 911.
5 Summer Heat Safety Tips
Use the following tips to keep you and your aging loved one cool and safe during the hot summer months.
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. Your body needs water to keep its temperature down so you should be drinking at least two glasses of cool fluids each hour even if you don’t feel thirsty. If you take medication or are prescribed a certain amount of fluids per day from your physician, then consult with them first about how much fluid you will need during the summer. Remember that caffeinated and alcoholic drinks will dehydrate your body so avoid these in the hot summer sun.
- Keep cool when possible by being in air-conditioning when inside. Force yourself to take time inside and allow your body to cool down. When you are outdoors, in particular for events (i.e. family barbecues) have a fan put outside to keep the air circulating.
- Plan around the heat and rest. If you have errands to run or activities planned, then schedule them around the hottest part of the day. Go out before noon or at night if possible. During the hotter parts of the day stay indoor in air-conditioning. This includes any heavy physical activity outside.
- Wear light clothing both in color and in weight to reflect the sunlight and to allow your body to breath and sweat.
- Wear sunscreen because a sunburn not only can hurt when you try to move but it can actually make it more difficult for your body to cool down. Ever touch someone’s sunburn and feel the heat? For more information on skin safety check out How to Identify and Prevent Skin Cancer in Aging Adults.
This information is to prepare you for the hot summer days to come. Be smart and proactive and enjoy your summer.