Summer is the perfect time to embrace the great outdoors while soaking up the sun, but as we head into some of the hottest months of the year it’s imperative to keep your health a top priority. According to the CDC, older adults aged 65 years and over are more prone to heat-related illness. After age 65, your body is unable to quickly adapt to sudden changes in air temperature, especially heat, which puts older adults at a greater risk for heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Fortunately, seniors can still enjoy some summer sun by educating themselves about heat exhaustion and heat stroke, and following a few simple safety precautions.
Despite it being preventable, more than 600 people are killed in the United States each year due to a heat-related illness. Heat exhaustion is a more mild result of heat stress, but can quickly lead to a heat stroke without immediate action being taken to cool the body down. The early warning signs of heat exhaustion are nausea, lightheadedness, muscle cramping, fatigue and dizziness. Upon the first sign of any of these symptoms of heat stress, it is critical to immediately move to an air conditioned area and drink plenty of fluids to decrease your body temperature and replenish electrolytes.
Unlike heat exhaustion, heat stroke requires immediate medical attention. If your body’s core temperature reaches 104℉ or higher you may begin experiencing a loss or change in consciousness, unexplained behavior changes, sudden severe headaches or a racing heart rate and should seek medical attention immediately. If you’re caring for a senior, check in with them on a regular basis to monitor medications that may impair the body’s ability to regulate temperatures, make sure they are keeping up with their fluids and have access to somewhere that’s cool if they don’t have air conditioning.
Heat stroke is preventable and there are countless precautions that can be taken to reduce the risk of any heat-related illnesses. If you find yourself in the grips of a summer heat wave here are some simple tips to help keep you cool.
Drink Plenty of Fluids
Staying hydrated will reduce your internal body temperature by helping you sweat. Remember to drink at least 8 ounces of water a day and also consider drinks like Gatorade or Pedialyte to help replenish electrolytes.
Consider wearing light breathable fabrics like cotton to stay cool outside or layers if you’re constantly moving from indoors to outdoors. It’s easy to remove layers of clothing if you need to; however, if your clothing is too tight it may impair your body from cooling down appropriately should you become overheated.
Despite many thinking that noon is the warmest part of the day, usually temperatures reach their peak around 3pm after the sun has already reached its highest point and temperatures continue to rise throughout the rest of the day. If you’re wanting to spend some quality time outside, consider planning your outdoor activities mid-morning or early evening to avoid extreme temperatures.
Visit a Cooling Center
As historic heatwaves surge through the U.S. many cities across the Pacific Northwest are setting up “cooling centers” to help residents who may not have access to air conditioning in their homes escape the excessive heat. City officials urge residents to stay hydrated, check on their neighbors, and avoid strenuous activities. If you don’t have access to air conditioning, check your local schools, libraries, or community centers to find your nearest cooling center.
Putting on a generous amount of sunscreen should always be part of your routine before heading outside. The sun isn’t always our friend and sunburns can increase your body temperature and affect the body’s ability to cool itself, not to mention make you uncomfortable no matter the weather. Consider always wearing a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and sunscreen that is at least SPF 15. If you’re in the water or sweating profusely, remember to reapply sunscreen every couple of hours.
Be aware of any medications that may interfere with your body’s response to dissipate heat and stay hydrated. If you take medications or have a history of heat-related illnesses avoid the heat when possible and act quickly if you notice symptoms of heat stress. Certain health conditions such as heart or lung disease, obesity or a sedentary lifestyle may also increase your risk of heat stroke.
If you’re on your own or caring for a senior, know that by educating yourself about heat exhaustion and heat stroke you can prevent this common, but in many cases, overlooked heat illness. Always check the weather before heading outside and ensure that you have the right clothing, sunscreen, and plenty of fluids to protect yourself from the heat. If you see any symptoms of heat stress, find a cool spot immediately and seek medical attention should overheating persist. Most importantly, know that by following these tips, heat stroke is preventable and you can take full advantage of the beautiful summer weather.
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