Keeping Older People Safe in the Summer Heat

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Make sure you know the signs of life-threatening heat stroke

If you’ve ever lived in a hot place without air conditioning, you know how miserable it can be. But getting overheated is more than just unpleasant for older people. It can be dangerous, and even deadly according to Next Avenue.

That’s why it is important to be aware of the risks of hyperthermia, or overheating of the body, especially if you care for an older parent or have elderly neighbors. Hyperthermia includes heat fatigue, heat syncope (sudden dizziness or fainting), heat cramps, heat exhaustion and — the most serious — heat stroke.

High humidity can exacerbate the problem.

Dr. Leslie Kernisan, a geriatrician and caregiver educator in San Francisco, said that heat stroke in older adults may appear with vague or non-specific symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, or delirium.

“This can make it hard to detect, or to tell apart from other complaints the senior may have voiced in the past,” she said.

Cognitive impairment may lead an older person to forget to turn on the air conditioning. And some seniors try to avoid drinking too much liquid if they struggle with urinary incontinence, Kernisan said.

Heat Stroke Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of heat stroke include the following, according to the National Institutes of Health:

  • An increase in body temperature, generally to over 104 degrees
  • Confusion or combativeness
  • A rapid, strong pulse
  • Dry, flushed skin
  • Feeling faint
  • Staggering
  • Coma

Call 911 if someone you know is showing these signs; they require immediate medical attention. While waiting for help, immerse the person in a tub or stream of cool water, cover with a wet sheet and give water — not sugary or alcoholic beverages — to drink.