As June came to an end, much of the United States was stuck in an oppressive heat wave; in fact, cities as far north as Montreal were experiencing extreme heat and humidity. Being the summer, this won’t be the last heat wave.
Exposure to heat can result in heat-related illnesses, especially for seniors, whose bodies are less able to regulate their temperatures and cool themselves. When our bodies heat rapidly or when we lose fluids and salt due to perspiration or dehydration, common conditions are cramps, heat exhaustion or heat stroke. In some cases, hyperthermia (absorbing more heat than our bodies can handle) is fatal. Older adults can also be more sensitive to sun.
Warning signs of heat-related illnesses
Heat exhaustion is typified as dehydration due to prolonged exposure to high temperatures. Symptoms include muscle cramps, headache, dizziness, fatigue and confusion.
Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related condition. Heat stroke is dehydration coupled with the body physically overheating and unable to bring down its own temperature. The most obvious sign is a body temperature of 104° or higher. Other symptoms include distorted mental state, flushed skin, nausea, vomiting, rapid breathing, and racing pulse.
NOTE: Did you know that certain chronic conditions and medications increase a senior’s risk of heat stroke? You are wise to consult with your medical practitioner about optimal fluid intake and medication management during periods of extreme heat. If you are in an assisted living environment, the nursing staff and medication aides can help.
Staying safe in high heat
These simple precautions can keep seniors safe during the year’s hottest months.
- Stay in the shade when possible
- Stay indoors during the hottest part of the day, usually 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
- Wear protective clothing outdoors – hats, sunglasses, light-colored clothing
- Use sunscreen (SPF 50)
- Stay hydrated – drink plenty of water and avoid caffeine and alcohol, which dehydrate the body. Don’t rely on feeling thirsty, just drink! Our bodies lose moisture even when we are not sweating heavily.
Staying cool indoors
Even when indoors during very hot weather, it is important to stay hydrated, especially if the air conditioning is not working or if you are keeping it at a moderate temperature to reduce energy consumption (fans that circulate the air are somewhat helpful but don’t do enough to help cool down your body). Visit a local cooling center if you are out and about or need access to air conditioned spaces: public libraries, senior centers, shopping malls, movie theaters, and community centers.
Additional indoor cooling tips during periods of extreme heat include:
- Cool drinks, such as water, iced herbal teas, and lemonade help moderate the body’s temperature and refresh.
- Wear lightweight layers you can add or take off as needed; cotton and other natural fibers are best because they breathe and won’t trap heat.
- Eat cool snacks such as frozen ice pops, frozen grapes or berries, and frozen peas.
- Choose light, cold meals over hot, heavy dishes. Think salads—grain or pasta, tuna, egg and tossed—over pot roast or lasagna.
- Place a cool washcloth on the back of your neck; keep a pan of cool water handy to re-cool the towel. Taking a cool shower, bath, or washcloth wipe-down is also effective, especially when the water is just below body temperature.
- Sit with your feet in a pan of cool (not cold) water.
If you are still in your own home, it’s advisable that you have someone call or check on you during times of very hot (or cold) weather. It doesn’t take much to feel the effects of heat exhaustion and it may be difficult to call for help when you need it.
Of course, if you reside in a senior living community, you’ll have access to cool spaces, plenty of refreshing beverages, an emergency call system, and peers and a helpful staff to look in on you or lend assistance. That’s just one reason why so many seniors choose independent or assisted living options at JCHC communities. We’re happy to tell you about all the other reasons at Village Apartments of the Jewish Federation in South Orange and Lester Senior Housing Community in Whippany. Contact us for more information and a tour.