Caring for an elderly parent through summer’s intense heat requires special considerations. This is due largely to the potential for heat stroke and heat exhaustion, which affect adults over 65 more than most. Why? As we age, our bodies’ internal temperature regulation can decline. Exacerbating the issue, many seniors may have a chronic condition or take prescription medicines that further impair temperature regulation as well as perspiration.
If you have an elderly parent, keep reading to learn the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke as well as what you can do to prevent them and provide treatment.
Heat Stroke in Elderly
Heat stroke occurs when the body loses the ability to control its temperature, leading to a rapid escalation in body temperature—it can rise to 106 degrees or higher within just 10-15 minutes. Key heat stroke symptoms include an extremely high body temperature (103 degrees or higher) and red, hot, and dry skin, indicating the inability to sweat. Intense headache, nausea, and dizziness also accompany heat stroke. If your parent has these symptoms, seek emergency help immediately, as heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if left untreated.
Signs of Heat Exhaustion
Experts consider heat exhaustion less serious in comparison to heat stroke, but special care must still be taken among vulnerable seniors. Prolonged exposure to high temperatures (such as in a heat wave) and inadequate or imbalanced fluid intake typically lead to heat exhaustion. You can identify heat exhaustion by these symptoms:
- Heavy sweating
- Muscle cramps
- Clammy skin
- Fast and weak pulse
- Fast and shallow breathing
Heat Stroke & Heat Exhaustion Prevention
If your parent lives alone, it’s a good idea for you or a professional to check in on him or her at least twice a day during periods of intense heat. In addition, these simple, common-sense practices can help your parent avoid heat-related illness:
- Stay Hydrated: Non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated fluids, such as water or juice, are best. Grandma or Grandpa may forget to drink, so carry a water bottle when on the go with them.
- Seek Air Conditioning: Especially during the middle hours of the day, it’s important for seniors to stay in climate-controlled environments. If they don’t have air conditioning at home, take them to the mall or local library.
- Watch the Heat Index: The heat index takes into account humidity, which can affect the body’s ability to regulate temperature. When checking the forecast, check this number, not just temperature.
- Dress for the Weather: When outdoors, lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothes will provide most comfort to seniors. A wide-brimmed hat is also important.
- Avoid Strenuous Activity: Vigorous exercise and housework will elevate body temperature and deplete energy. Encourage your parent to rest when the heat is high.