Updated: Jun 8
By Pati Bedwell, Elder Care Coordinator
Welcome to the heat of summer!
The summer months are a great time for outdoor sports and activities, things like swimming, boating, tennis, golf. But, if you are a caregiver for an elderly adult, summer can be a sticky time of year in more ways than one. And so, the great debate – is it too cold or too hot – begins.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), an average of 702 people die of heat-related illnesses each year. Most of the people affected are older adults. Heat impacts older adults more acutely than it does the rest of us. Hot weather increases the risk of heat-related illnesses, cardiovascular issues, and respiratory disease. Faced with these facts, caregivers must be mindful and ever vigilant to help keep their elderly loved ones cool in the summer heat.
Keeping your loved one safe as temperatures rise starts with understanding some basic facts about how heat affects older adults. First off, as we age, our perception of temperature changes. Our actual body temperature doesn’t change, but our perception of it is different. In fact, it becomes harder to control our body temperature. We don’t sweat as much, either, so it’s harder to tell when we start to overheat. These factors make it easier for older adults to quickly become overheated and dehydrated, leading to danger.
According to the CDC, heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. Heat stroke happens when the body can no longer control its temperature. The body becomes incapable of cooling itself down. You might be surprised to know that the body’s temperature can rise to as high as106 degrees in as little as 10 – 15 minutes.
How can you tell if your loved one is being affected by heat stroke? Watch for these signs:
Confusion, agitation, slurred speech
Flushed skin, rapid breathing, racing heart rate
Profuse sweating or cold and clammy
Tiredness, dizziness, fainting
Many factors can raise the risk of heat-related issues including medications, cardiovascular, lung, or kidney disease, being overweight or underweight, and the propensity for dehydration, to name a few.
What can caregivers do to lower the risk of heat stroke in older loved ones? Try these tips:
Stay inside in an air-conditioned room.
If the older adult complains about it being too cold in the house, turn the thermostat up just a degree or two and be sure to keep your loved one out of the direct flow of cool air.
Encourage your loved one to drink plenty of water--lots and lots of water! Fruit and vegetable juices are good options, as well as any drink with electrolytes. Stay away from caffeine and alcohol.
Do what you can to control the environment. Close window blinds and shades; keep oven use to a minimum.
Dress in lightweight and light-colored clothing.
Limit time outside. If you must go outside, make sure everyone uses sunscreen.
Keep the refrigerator and freezer stocked with cool treats – popsicles, ice cream, chilled watermelon, grapes, melons, and other fruits, and iced tea.
Most importantly, when temperatures are soaring, be sure to check on your loved one frequently throughout the day, even if you live with them. If they spend part of their day alone, call or stop by to make sure they are okay. Remember, elderly people don’t tolerate the heat as well as they did when they were younger. They are also not as bothered by it, making it easy for them to fall prey to heat-related issues.
Do you have questions about helping elderly loved ones find the right care at the right place at the right time? Answering those questions is what we do here at Takacs McGinnis Elder Care Law. Call the office at 615.824.2571 to schedule your consultation.