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Seniors and heat equals bad combination

The recent wave of hot weather that swept through our area brought with it a concern for the well-being of some of our most fragile residents — senior citizens.

And though the scorcher has passed, there is a possibility another wave could still come through again before summer ends.

“Generally, by the time you feel thirsty, you are already on your way to being dehydrated,” Randy Wexler said.

Wexler, a family physician and assistant professor of clinical family medicine at Ohio State University, said chronic illness, medications and the physical changes that accompany aging can all impact how hot weather affects a person, but there are things one can do to keep cool when temperatures rise.

Many factors contribute to how well a person handles the heat, according to Wexler, including troubled thirst and temperature sensors, medicine or even finances.

“Certain medicines can affect how well the body regulates heat,” Wexler said.

The list includes blood pressure medication and medicines designed to prevent heart failure and other chronic diseases.

Even over-the-counter antihistamines can have an adverse effect on one’s ability to deal with hot weather.

An inability to sense thirst or temperature changes also can come with aging, according to Wexler. This can make it easier to become dehydrated or overheated without noticing.

Money can be a big factor in almost every aspect of people’s lives, including heat illness among senior citizens.

Limited budgets may reduce a person’s ability to afford purchasing or running an air conditioner or fan.

The National Institute on Aging offers a few tips on staying safe during extremely hot weather.

Stay indoors. When it is hot outside, keep out of the heat as much as possible. If possible, use air conditioning or at least spend a few hours in a cooler place like a public library, senior center or shopping mall.

Don’t wait outside in the heat for a bus. If you don’t drive, get a friend to drive.

Even without air conditioning, there are several ways one can “beat the heat.”

Fans can help cool a space until the temperature rises to the upper 90s.

Taking cool baths or showers can quickly reduce the body temperature.

Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing that will not conduct heat.

Keep curtains, shades or blinds closed during the hottest part of the day or when windows are directly in the sun.

Open windows at night to allow the cool night air to penetrate the house. Open windows on opposite sides to promote cross-ventilation.

Drink more juice and water during hot weather. Drink a minimum of eight glasses per day, unless instructed otherwise by your physician.

Heat stroke can come quickly and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the warning signs include body temperatures above 103 degrees; hot, red and dry skin; a strong, rapid pulse; throbbing headache; dizziness, nausea or confusion; and unconsciousness.

If these symptoms occur, call for help immediately. Move the affected person to the shade, put him or her in a cool bath or spray him or her with cool water from a hose until help arrives.

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