Why Are the Elderly at Risk of Heat Stroke?Angelique Laaks
Have you ever seen an elderly person bundled up in a jumper on a day warm enough to see the rest of the family in shorts and t-shirts? It’s a stereotypical image – but can be a dangerous one. Did you know that the elderly are particularly vulnerable to heat stroke during our blistering summer months?
Carers, retirement homes and even family members who care for elderly parents need to be aware of the dangers of heat stroke. As our loved ones age, they are simply not equipped to deal with the toll that high temperatures wreak on their bodies.
What makes the elderly so vulnerable to heat stroke?
Heat Stroke and the Elderly
Dehydration is a leading cause of heat stroke for all age groups. However, the elderly are particularly affected in this area.
Dehydration’s Effect on the Body
A dehydrated body is no longer equipped to regulate its temperature for several reasons.
The blood becomes more concentrated and thicker as fluid levels decrease. This increased viscosity forces the cardiovascular system to work harder to maintain the blood pressure. An increased heart rate can be problematic for a frail person with a compromised system. It can cause fainting and exhaustion fairly quickly.
Additional Factors for Seniors
Age tends to bring with it a cluster of problems such as heart disease, obesity, thinning skin and dementia. These, along with other factors, play a large part in increasing the risk of heat exhaustion or heat stroke for older ones. Consider the following:
- Those with heart or circulatory problems cannot dissipate heat fast enough.
- Dementia and some medications can make a person unaware that they over overheating.
- Heat sensitivity decreases with age.
- Thinner skin (less subcutaneous fat) equals fewer pores for sweating, compromising the body’s primary temperature control mechanism.
- Older people are less likely to feel thirst.
- Some suffer from incontinence or limited mobility so intentionally drink less
- The older body stores fat differently which thwarts the body’s attempts at heat regulation.
- Medications such as diuretics (water pills) cause further water loss.
Bearing in mind the above, it’s clear that we need to keep a close eye on our older loved ones in the hotter months.
How Can We Avoid Heat Stroke?
Prevention is certainly better than cure in this instance. It is vital to ensure that the conditions that our elderly find themselves in are constant and rigorously monitored. Individuals with impaired mobility are more at risk as they cannot easily change their environment.
How can we assist in keeping our seniors cool and safe?
The most logical solution would be to have a reliable cooling solution in their room or home. It’s easy to keep a consistently comfortable temperature with the press of a button. The added benefit is that a good aircon provides good ventilation, reduced humidity levels, and can be set on a timer for added ease of use.
In the absence of automatic climate control, an open window or regular walks in the shade or down a cool corridor will go a long way to keeping your loved ones comfortable. A closed room can become stifling and close in a very short period of time.
Assist With Hydration
Ideally, one would want to drink eight glasses of water a day. Small sips take throughout the day is the perfect way to keep a constant drip-feed of liquid going into the body. Juices, teas and coffees help, but water is the best option.
If possible, educate yourself and your elderly parent on the effects that their medicine can have on their overall health. As mentioned, diuretics taken for oedema or blood pressure can adversely affect the water retention capacity of the body.
Again, if possible, chat to your parents or grandparents about overdressing. They may battle with sensitivity to the cold, but they also may need guidance on the dangers of overdressing in the summer months.
Heat stroke can set in within 10 – 15 minutes. Recognising the signs and knowing what to do may save the life of the senior person in your care.
Look out for:
- Hot dry skin
- Rapid pulse
Take immediate steps to cool the person down by placing them in a cool bath, under a cold air-conditioner, or sponging them down with a cold, wet cloth.
We know that you care for your elderly family members, and we’d like to assist you in reducing the risk of heat stroke. Call us today and let us recommend the best cooling system for your needs.