As this brutally hot summer continues, so does the increased risk of heat-related illness for seniors in Ashland and throughout the country. Approximately 371 deaths occur in the United States every year due to heat stroke and many other deaths occur from other causes as a result of high temperatures. Nearly half of all victims are 65 years and older.
There are several reasons for heat vulnerability in the older population. The ability to recognize changes in body temperature decreases with age. Prolonged heat exposure takes a toll on the body, compromising the ability for it to cool itself. Older adults are most susceptible to this because an older body is less efficient in reacting to the heat. As we age, we gradually lose the ability to perspire and regulate our body temperature. This is why older people tend to overdress — they don't feel heat the same way anymore.
However, age isn’t the only factor that increases the risk for heat-related illnesses. Seniors may have underlying health conditions that make them less able to adapt to heat or their medications may contribute to dehydration. Other factors such as isolation or social circumstances, heart, lung or kidney disease, medication, high blood pressure or diabetes, and high-level apartment living can all attribute to an increased risk of a heat-related illness.
The warning signs of heat-related illness are easy to spot. They include dizziness, nausea, headache, rapid heartbeat, chest pain, fainting and breathing problems. If you or someone you love experiences these symptoms, seek help immediately.
All heat-related illnesses and fatalities are preventable and it’s important to understand the most effective ways to avoid an injury to you or a loved one.
A simple fan was once thought to be a quick solution to those suffering the extreme heat on a fixed income.
However, fans are not protective against heat-related illness when conditions reach 90 degrees or above, and unfortunately due to budget constraints and efforts to cut utility costs, many seniors in Ashland are less likely to use air conditioners, thus increasing the risk for heatstroke.
But here’s what else you can do. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)1, the following steps can be taken to ensure that you or your loved one remains safe when the temperatures rise:
• Limit exposure to outdoor and indoor heat
• Spend time in air-conditioned buildings such as shopping malls, senior centers, public libraries or movie theaters
• Take a cool shower or bath
• Do not use appliances such as the oven or dryer during the hottest parts of the day unless absolutely necessary
• Turn off lights, they emit heat
• Keep curtains, shades and blinds drawn during the daytime
• Wear loose and lightweight clothes
• Do not over-exert yourself with strenuous activity
• Know the warning signs of heat-related illness
• Drink lots of fluids to stay hydrated
The last step seems the easiest, but unfortunately many seniors today are unable or just plain forget to drink enough water. This one simple resource is so valuable in fighting heat-related illnesses. Please check on your loved ones or neighbors to make sure they have the hydration they need to stay healthy.
For those neighbors who are already experiencing health problems, The Rehabilitation Center at The Good Shepherd specializes in short-term rehabilitation for patients who have undergone surgeries or other in-hospital disease treatments. The Patient Navigation Team, led by a respected attending physician and comprised of a registered nurse, a physical therapist and a case manager, will be at your side during the entire rehabilitation process. Your personalized care plan will ensure a successful recovery and return to home. The Rehabilitation Center also offers outpatient physical, occupational and speech therapy to patients who are already home but still on the mend.
For more information regarding The Good Shepherd, contact Lorie White at 419-632-5453 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.lssnetworkofhope.org/goodshepherd.
Lorie White is the director of social services and admissions for LSS The Good Shepherd.