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Heat Wave Dangers and Precautions for the Elderly

Heat Wave Dangers and Precautions for the ElderlyWith an unstable global climate, heat waves are occurring more frequently even in countries with historically colder environments. It is not uncommon for deaths to occur with freak heat waves and the elderly are among the more likely fatalities. There are several reasons for seniors being at a greater risk of serious complications and even death in the event of a heat wave. However, these consequences are avoidable with precautionary measures and common sense on the part of the senior.

Dangers that Heat Waves Pose to Seniors

A heat wave can be dangerous for any person. However, it is especially so for babies, young children and the elderly for various reasons. As a person gets older, there temperature control mechanisms are not as efficient. In fact it is not uncommon for an older person to be feeling cold even in a warm to hot environment.

The temperature control centers in the brain becomes less sensitive with age and may therefore not initiate the correct cooling mechanisms when the body becomes overheated. This is not just a matter of age but also a result of using certain chronic medication and various chronic diseases that can either affect the temperature control center or its mechanisms.

Even though a person acclimatizes to the temperature changes in their natural habitat, a heat wave brings upon excessively high temperatures for prolonged periods of time. It occurs suddenly and the body does not have the time to adapt. The persistence of these elevated temperatures also does not allow the body time to recuperate. There is the added danger when seniors go on vacation to traditionally hotter climates and then a heat wave may strike at the destination.

This can cause heat related illnesses. The most serious is a heat stroke but it is preceded by heat cramps and heat exhaustion. Therefore the typical heat stroke symptoms are not present at the outset. Dehydration is one of the main complications as the body loses water and salts (electrolytes) which on its own can be fatal. However, even overheating without dehydration can be life-threatening as various essential process in the body become disrupted and shut down.

Precautions for Seniors during Heat Waves

Seniors should not solely depend on their perception of temperature. If the mercury is rising and most people are trying to stay cool, the elderly should follow suit. Sweating is not a reliable indicator of the body being overheated. The elderly may suffer with conditions like hypohidrosis or anhidrosis where there is little or no sweating despite the rise in the body temperature. Simple measures include :

  • Dressing with light colored and thin airy clothes.
  • Staying out of the sun and heat as much as possible.
  • Not exercising or going for long walks in hot weather.
  • Drinking plenty of fluids. Water alone is not sufficient. Oral rehydrating solutions add salts (electrolytes) to the water and can be purchased from most stores and pharmacies.
  • Resting in the shade or air conditioned rooms.
  • Using water and other means of cooling the body should there be an absence of sweating despite the body temperature rising.
  • Avoid traveling to hot climates during the summer months.
  • Being aware of the early symptoms of heat related illnesses like cramps, exhaustion, nausea, headaches and other symptoms that may come about suddenly and seeking treatment immediately.

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