When Heat Becomes Hazardous: Avoiding Heat Exhaustion in Seniors

Mar 28, 2016

When Heat Becomes Hazardous: Avoiding Heat Exhaustion in Seniors

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Summertime brings sunshine, warm weather and tons of outdoor activities. While many feel that this is the best time of the year, soaking up the sun in the summer time can be rather dangerous.

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are caused by overexposure to high temperatures. The two are typically lumped together, but that’s not the reality of the situation. Although both are serious illnesses, heat stroke is more dangerous and requires emergency services.

Heat Exhaustion vs. Heat Stroke

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion occurs when your body becomes very hot and starts losing water and salt. If not treated, this will lead to a number of different symptoms:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Skin that feels cool and moist
  • Muscle cramps
  • Overall feeling unwell

To treat heat exhaustion, have your senior drink cool, nonalcoholic beverages, and get into a cool setting immediately. A cool shower might even do the trick. If problems persist, you will need to seek medical attention. Heat exhaustion left untreated will turn to heat stroke.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke differs slightly from heat exhaustion but is more serious. It is when the body is no longer able to cool itself down. A person's temperature will rise dangerously to 104 degrees or higher. Symptoms of heat stroke include:

  • Extremely high body temperature
  • Lack of sweating
  • Muscle cramps or weakness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Flushed skin
  • Rapid Breathing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness

Left untreated, heat stroke can pose a serious risk. It puts a strain on the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, and can even be life-threatening. Emergency medical attention is needed to treat heat stroke. Call 911 and try and keep a senior cool until help arrives. The longer you wait to treat heat stroke, the increased risk of serious complication and damage to the critical organs.

Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion Prevention

As shown in the symptoms listed above, any heat related illness is something to take seriously. Thankfully, these illnesses do give us the appropriate warning signs, and that often provides enough time to either move indoors and recuperate, or contact the necessary emergency services.

The serious nature of heat-related illnesses also verifies why learning preventative care for heat stroke and heat exhaustion is crucial, especially for seniors.

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can sneak up on people, and among those most susceptible to the heat-related illnesses are children and seniors. Upsettingly, almost 40 percent of heat-related deaths in the United States are senior citizens. But, why are senior citizens more susceptible than the average adult? Well, there are a number of reasons. One of the most prominent reasons that senior citizens suffer from heat-related illnesses the most is because many senior citizens suffering from other, age-related illnesses.

Heat Illness Prevention Tips

  • Educate seniors on the symptoms of both heat stroke and heat exhaustion - Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to preventative care. Knowing the signs and symptoms of heat stroke and heat exhaustion will help seniors recognize any warning signs should they ever begin displaying them.
  • Seniors should make sure their wardrobe is appropriate for the weather - For example, if seniors insist on wearing long sleeved shirts and pants, they should be sure they are light in color and weight. Loose fitting clothes are also a good addition to the hot-weather wardrobe.
  • Drink plenty of water and other liquids - Dehydration is dangerous, especially when the weather gets hot. Seniors should be sure they are drinking plenty of water, juices, and other liquids. But remember to avoid caffeine and alcoholic beverages at all costs, because they contribute to dehydration.
  • Seniors should keep their eyes on the heat index - If the weatherman warns that it’s going to be an extremely hot day, seniors should try their best to stay indoors. If they must be out and about that day, seniors should try to stay in air-conditioned environments. For example, if they need to go to the grocery store, it’s appropriate to go as long as seniors do not linger outdoors for long periods of time.
  • Stay indoors at the hottest times of the day - Early and mid-afternoon tend to be the time of day where the temperatures are the hottest, so it’s best to avoid this completely by simply staying inside.
  • Don’t overdo it - If it’s really hot outside, there is no reason to be exercising or doing any sort of physical activity outdoors. If a senior chooses to spend time outside, he or she should just relax and take it easy.

Summer can continue to be the most wonderful time of the year, as long as people, especially seniors, realize and accept that the heat of the sun is a force to be reckoned with. By taking the 6 tips of averting heat exhaustion into serious consideration, you’ll ensure that every senior has a safe and sunny summer time.

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Frequently Asked Questions

I haven't exercised in years, is it safe to start working out in my late 60's?

Of course! Exercising regularly is a great way to keep your health in top notch shape. But, you’ll want to take it easy at first. Don’t plan on running a marathon anytime soon. Start by taking walks or stretching in the morning. By starting easy you can train your body what it's like to be active again until you get back into the swing of things again. Good luck!

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I have a few medical conditions (arthritis and hypertension, etc.) is it still safe for me to exercise?

Yes! Studies show that regular exercise can actually greatly improve medical conditions such as arthritis and hypertension. Plus, staying active can help prevent your chances of getting other medical conditions in the future. 

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