Summer has well and truly arrived in South Australia. Adelaide’s temperatures will reach or soar above 40c for four consecutive days, with “Furnace Friday” to top 44c.
If you are aged 65 years and over, you may be at increased risk of heat-related illnesses. This is due to a range of risk factors including:
Physical changes – an older body cannot cope with sudden stresses like it used to. For example, elderly skin is not able to produce sweat and cool the body as efficiently as younger skin.
Medical problems – older people are more likely to have chronic medical problems which can make the body more vulnerable to heat-related illness.
Medications – older people with medical problems are more likely to take medications on a regular basis, some of which may interfere with the body’s ability to regulate temperature. For example, beta blockers (heart tablets) reduce the ability o the heart and lungs to adapt to stresses including hot weather.
My Care Solution takes this opportunity to remind seniors to be proactive during the hot summer months and take steps to avoid heat-related illnesses.
A few simple precautions can significantly reduce the likelihood of heat stress in an older person. These precautions include:
1. Know the signs and symptoms
The signs and symptoms of heat stress in an older person differ slightly to those that may be present in a younger person. For example, rather than excessively sweating or having moist and cool skin, an older person is more likely to present with hot and dry skin. Other signs and symptoms include:
- Weak, rapid pulse
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
- Disorientation and confusion
- Fainting or coma
- Worsening of pre-existing medical conditions
2. Stay hydrated
Dehydration is the root cause of many heat-related illnesses, especially in older people. Even if you are not particularly thirsty, keep yourself hydrated with at least 8 glasses of water per day. Consider complementing this with tasty, hydrating summer foods such as watermelon, stone fruits and cucumbers, all of which boast a high water content.
It is also recommended that you avoid coffee and alcohol, both of which are diuretics and can contribute to your dehydration rather than cure it.
3. Dress lightly
On a hot day, consider wearing light-coloured, lightweight, loose-fitting clothes. Breathable materials such as cotton, linen or jersey are highly recommended. Dark colours and jewel tones, such as emerald, purple or blue, tend to trap heat and transmit the heat to the skin.
4. Stay indoors
Close the windows, draw your blinds and curtains, turn on your air conditioner and stay indoors through the hottest parts of the day – normally between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. If you do not have an air conditioner, consider spending the afternoon at the cinemas, your local shopping centre or the library.
5. Know when to cool down
If you’re feeling hot, take a tepid bath or shower to cool down and apply cool washcloths on the neck, wrist and armpits. Consider sitting with your feet in a pan of cool water, but make sure the water is not too cold so as to avoid shocking or stressing your body. Opt for nutritious and cool foods such as yoghurts, cold fruit cups, salads and sandwiches.
If you or your elderly loved one seems to be suffering from heat stress, cool them down promptly. Use whatever means is on hand, for example, sponge and fan the person, get them into a cool shower or wet them with a garden hose. Seek immediate medical help by calling the doctor or triple zero (000).