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Resist Heat-Related Illnesses

Know the risk factors and what to do if heat stroke occurs

With the heat index breaking records summer after summer, the National Institutes of Health recently issued some tips for seniors who at a greater risk of suffering during a heat wave. Seniors are at an increased risk because their older bodies lose some ability to adapt to heat, and also because they may be on medications which reduce that adaptability as well.

When the body overheats it is called hyperthermia. Conditions involving hyperthermia are heat exhaustion, heat stroke, heat syncope (lightheadedness/fainting in the heat), heat fatigue and heat cramps.

The following factors increase the risk of hyperthermia:

  • Pre-existing conditions such as congestive heart failure, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Decreased mobility and/or being substantially overweight
  • Certain medications that may cause dehydration or that may affect the responses to heat
  • Drinking alcohol/dehydration
  • Hot living quarters
  • Lack of transportation leading to too much time outside in heat
  • Overdressing
  • Visiting overcrowded places
  • Dementia, Alzheimer’s or cognitive impairment
  • Air pollution

Older people should pay attention to any air pollution alerts in effect. People without fans or air conditioners should go to shopping malls, movie theaters, libraries or other places with air conditioning. In addition, they can visit cooling centers which are often provided by government agencies, religious groups and social service organizations in many communities.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is an advanced form of hyperthermia. It occurs when the body is overwhelmed by heat and unable to control its temperature, and body temperature reaches at least 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

Seek immediate medical attention for a person with any of these heat stroke symptoms, especially an older adult:

  • A strong rapid pulse
  • Lack of sweating
  • Feeling faint
  • Confusion, combativeness, disorientation
  • Dry flushed skin
  • Staggering and mental status changes

If you suspect that someone is suffering from a heat-related illness, get medical assistance as soon as possible, and:

  • Move them into an air conditioned or cool place
  • Urge them to lie down and rest
  • Apply cold water, ice packs or cold wet cloths to the skin
  • Remove or loosen tight-fitting or heavy clothing
  • Encourage them to drink water or juices if they are able to drink without choking, but avoid alcohol and caffeine
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