Columns
September 17, 2019
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Navigating the aging journey

Julie Ann Soukoulis
 Heat and older adults
August 2, 2019

Older adults do not adjust as well as young people to sudden changes in temperature.  The body can’t adjust to the heat as quickly as it once did. This is why older adults are prone to heat-related health problems. Those with chronic health conditions or taking certain medications that interfere with normal body response to heat are most at risk. Did you know some medications also restrict the body’s ability to perspire? If you are an older adult or care for one, take a minute to review this information to protect yourself and others from heat related illnesses during these hot summer days.

Why are older adults more prone to heat stress?

They are more likely to have a chronic medical condition that changes normal body responses to heat.

Older adults with poor circulation, inefficient sweat glands and changes in the skin caused by normal aging have a harder time with the heat.

They are more likely to take prescription medicines that affect the body’s ability to control its temperature or sweat.  The inability to perspire can be caused by some drugs, including diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers and certain heart and blood pressure medicines

Heart, lung, and kidney diseases, as well as any illness that causes weakness or fever will increase an older adults’ reaction when the temperatures rise toward triple digits.

Stay cool, stay hydrated

Do not rely on a fan as your main cooling source when it’s really hot outside.

Open your windows at night.

Create a cross breeze by opening windows on opposite sides of the room or house.

Wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing.

Drink more water/cool fluids than usual and don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. If your doctor limits the amount of fluids you drink or has you on “water pill”, ask them how much you should drink during hot weather. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can dehydrate you.

Never “stay in the car” without the AC running on hot days even for a few minutes; as it reaches higher temps in a car that outside.

Don’t use the stove or oven to cook—it will make you and your house hotter.

Take cool showers or baths to cool down or sponge baths.

Cover windows when they’re in direct sunlight, and keep curtains, shades, or blinds drawn during the hottest part of the day.

Dampen your clothing with water and sit in the breeze from a fan. Or use wet / cold compresses to cool you down (behind your neck and on your chest or forehead).

Stay in air-conditioned buildings as much as possible. Spend at least two hours a day (the hottest part, if possible) in an air-conditioned place, such as our local library, the Rohnert Park Senior Center, or friend’s house.  You can call our local Sonoma County Area Agency on Aging at  (800) 510-2020 and ask  if there’s a program that provides window air conditioners to seniors who qualify. If you can’t afford to run your air conditioner, ask if they know of programs that can help you with cooling bills or call PG&E directly to inquire.

Do not engage in very strenuous activities and get plenty of rest.

Older adults may experience sunburn quicker because of changes in skin texture. Sunburn makes it more difficult to stay cool. Use sunblock (SPF 30 or greater) when outdoors for prolonged periods of time, even on cloudy days.

Ask a friend or relative to drive you to a cool place on very hot days if you don’t drive. Take a drive to the coast or to SF to enjoy the cooler weather.  Many towns or counties, area agencies, religious groups and senior centers also provide such services/activities. 

Asphalt and concrete can reach up to 40 degrees hotter than the air temperature and remains hotter than the air well into the night. Avoid prolonged exposure to the city’s streets and sidewalk. Don’t stand outside waiting for a bus. 

How to handle heat illnesses

Heat stress, heat fatigue, heat cramps and heat exhaustion are all forms of hyperthermia, the general name for a range of heat-related illnesses, says the National Institute on Aging.  Symptoms may include headache; nausea; skin that is dry (no sweating), hot and red; muscle spasms; and fatigue after exposure to heat.

If you suspect someone is suffering from a heat-related illness, the NIA says you should do these things:

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 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.

Seek emergency medical attention if you suspect heat stroke.

 Possible symptoms of heat stroke include:

Headache

Dizziness

Disorientation, agitation, or confusion

Sluggishness or fatigue

Seizure

Hot, dry skin that is flushed but not sweaty

High body temperature

Loss of consciousness

Rapid heartbeat

Hallucinations

Heat stroke can be fatal. Heat waves kill more Americans than any other type of natural disaster. Older adults should always have a family member friend, neighbor or home health aide who can check up on them regularly.

Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, www.homeinstead.com/sonoma to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern?  She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.