The official start of summer may still be a few weeks away, but with area temperatures already nearing 90 degrees, it’s a good time to think about how we can keep our Rhode Island seniors healthy when the heat hits.
About 200 Americans die from health problems related to heat each year, and most of these deaths are within the senior population. Farmers’ Almanac predicts a hot and steamy summer this year, with less than average rainfall for the Northeast, which means there may be a great number of days when our seniors will be susceptible to heat-related health problems.
There are several reasons why seniors are at greater risk of this than those under 65:
- Their bodies are not able to easily adjust to sudden temperature changes
- They are more likely to have medical conditions that can alter body responses to heat
- They are more likely to take multiple prescription medications that make it difficult for their bodies to control their internal temperature
Heat-related problems can include:
- Fainting—which can cause dangerous falls in the elderly
- Heat cramps
- Heat rash
- Heat exhaustion
- Heat stroke—a life-threatening condition that will cause bodily systems to stop functioning
Heat stroke—the most serious of these conditions—begins with heat exhaustion, which is marked by symptoms including cramping, profuse sweating, vomiting and weakness. Untreated heat exhaustion leads to heat stroke when the body’s temperature fails to regulate itself. Signs of this include a changed mental status, seizure and a body temperature exceeding 106 degrees.
If you suspect a senior—or anyone—has either of conditions, call 911.
You can help your elderly loved ones, friends and neighbors minimize their risk of heat-related health problems in these ways:
- Make sure they know how to stay cool—they should drink plenty of fluids, wear light-colored, lightweight and loose-fitting clothing and have access to air conditioning
- Visit to make sure they do not display any symptoms related to heat exhaustion or heat stroke
- Make sure they stay informed about the weather
- Invite them to take shelter with you in cases of power outages that will prevent their homes from staying cool
More information about heat-related health issues and the elderly can be found online from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Homeland Security.