Officials with Home Instead Senior Care, a company which provides help to seniors through aid, support, education and more, are offering tips to protect against the summer heat.
“Summer is here and warmer weather is perfect time for families to enjoy outdoor activities such as gardening and picnics,” Home Instead’s Weston Owen, said. “However, for seniors, extreme temperatures during the summer months can pose health risks.”
He said as Arkansans endure the summer heat, it’s important to remember that local seniors are especially vulnerable to the high temperatures and the side effects that increased heat indexes bring: heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, sunburn and heat rash.
“In fact, the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) notes that adults 65 and older do not adjust as well as young people to sudden changes in temperature, making them more vulnerable to heat-related health problems,” Owen said.
Lakelyn Hogan, a gerontologist and caregiver advocate through Home Instead, said it’s June through September when most plan trips and spend longer time outdoors.
“It’s important for older adults to participate in these family activities, while taking the steps necessary to ensure their comfort and safety,” she said. “Be sure your loved one takes frequent indoor breaks, carries and properly stores medications, and wears light-colored clothing.”
The company representatives put together a list of safety precautions and steps that they encourage families to follow this summer:
• Make sure aging loved ones take preventive health measures including wearing protective clothing to prepare or summer heat exposure.
“Mayo Clinic recommends wearing loose-fitting, lightweight clothing to allow the body to better cool itself naturally,” the safety tip continues. “Adding a broad-brimmed hat or cap can also help keep internal temperatures low and protect from sunburn [,] a condition that heightens the risk of heat stroke by reducing the skin’s ability to regulate heat.”
• Avoid the hottest parts of the day by planning ahead.
“Many activities such as running errands or visiting friends and family members should be scheduled for the morning or evening hours, when temperatures are lower, and the sun is less intense,” the second tips states. “If the time cannot be adjusted, stay hydrated and rest frequently in a cool area to avoid the increased risk of overheating.”
• Pay attention to symptoms of heat-related health problems.
“The University of Connecticut found that older adults are the most susceptible demographic to dehydration due to reduced kidney function that occurs naturally as we age, as well as the frequent use of diuretics often taken for high blood pressure,” Home Instead’s third tip reads. “Be aware of muscle cramps, dizziness, headaches, constipation or impaired memory or concentration function, which can signal dehydration. Also watch for the symptoms of heat stroke; high body temperature, confusion or slurred speech, flushed skin, rapid breathing and a headache.”
• Take action to cool someone experiencing heat-related symptoms. Once a symptom is identified, immediate action is critical to treat the senior and prevent escalation, the Mayo Clinic advising to get that person in the shade, indoors and out of the heat, to remove any excess clothing and to cool by any means available such as with a wet towel or submerging them in cold water.”
According to Arkansas’ thermoregulation and heat expert Brendon McDermott, “death from exertional heat stroke is 100 percent preventable,” and what causes exertional heat stroke is, essentially, a battle for blood: to working muscles, to the brain, lungs and heart, the periphery for sweating and internal organs.
“Symptoms of heat-related illness can be subtle, and it is important to recognize and treat them before serious injuries occur,” he said.
With heat exhaustion, the expert said a person might feel faint or dizzy, have a headache, feel weak, have a rapid pulse, feel nauseous/might vomit and might have muscle cramps, especially in those who are outside working, but at this point, only need that type of aforementioned treatment.
McDermott said when it comes to heat stroke, the only thing that truly identify that in a person is their core temperature – administered with a rectal thermometer – but one of the symptoms is confusion and central nervous system dysfunction.
“In order to be diagnosed with heat stroke, you have to be above 104 [degrees],” McDermott said.
Physiologically, a bodies threshold for cell death is 105 degrees and above 106, cells are being lost, he said, but the need to be able to recognize and treat these heat-related conditions can be the difference between life and death.
• Monitor and/or assist with medications.
According to a recent survey of seniors conducted by Home Instead, many seniors taking five or more prescription medications admit challenges in managing their medications but with educational programs like Let’s Talk about Rx, families can be provided with resources to help manage medications more efficiently and avoid any mishaps.
“This is particularly important during the summer months, as some prescribed medications may affect a senior’s natural ability to stay hydrated and dissipate heat,” the fourth tip reads. “Talk with your senior and their doctor about any increased risks connected to medications.”
Additional free family resources and additional information on summer safety tips for seniors, visit www.caregiverstress.com.