Recognize and Prevent Heat-Related Illness in the Elderly

by Dianna Malkowski, Physician Assistant & Nutritionist
Summer 2011 is bringing higher temperatures than we’ve seen in years, from Minnesota to Texas and across the country. Folks age 65 or older are more prone to heat stress than younger people because they don’t adjust as well to sudden temperature changes and may have medical conditions or take medications that change a body’s response to heat. Take steps to prevent heat-related illnesses and recognize the signs and symptoms.

Visit older adults at least twice a day and watch for signs of heat stress. Inform your loved ones of the following preventative steps:
  • Drink cool (not extremely cold, which can cause cramps), nonalcoholic beverages. Discuss amounts with a health care provider if your loved one is limited in how much he should drink or is taking water pills.
  • Wear lightweight, breathable clothing.
  • Rest and avoid strenuous activities.
  • Stay indoors during the hottest part of the day, preferably in an air-conditioned environment.
  • Take cool baths or showers.
  • Never leave an elderly person (or pet or child) in a car if you run into a store. The temperature inside a car can rise 19 degrees within 10 minutes and 29 degrees in 20 minutes.
  • Do not leave a car running with air conditioning on, because passengers can be exposed to carbon monoxide while sitting inside the car.
Heat Exhaustion
This heat-related illness can develop after lengthy exposure to high temperatures combined with inadequate or unbalanced fluid replacement. Signs include:
  • Heavy sweating, paleness or cool, moist skin.
  • Fast, shallow breathing.
  • Fast, weak pulse.
  • Muscle cramps.
  • Headache, dizziness, nausea or vomiting.
  • Fatigue, weakness or fainting.
Heat Stroke

The most serious heat-related illness, heat stroke can occur when the body cannot control its temperature and may result in death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided. Look for:

  • A body temperature above 103 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Red, hot, dry skin that is not sweating.
  • Rapid, shallow breathing.
  • A strong and rapid pulse.
  • Headache, dizziness or nausea.
Emergency Treatment
If you notice signs of severe heat stress, ask someone to call 911 while you begin cooling efforts. If emergency personnel are delayed, ask someone to call a hospital emergency room.

  • Get the person to a shaded area.
  • Cool rapidly, using a tub of cool water, a shower, a garden hose or even a sponge.
  • Continue these cooling efforts until body temperature drops to at least 101 degrees Fahrenheit.

Dianna Malkowski, PA-C
Dianna Malkowski is a Board Certified Physician Assistant and Mayo Clinic trained nutritionist specializing in diabetes, cancer, wound healing, therapeutic diets and nutrition support. She serves on the board of professional advisors for The CareGiver Partnership and enjoys working with patients and caregivers alike. Ask Dianna a question, or for one-on-one help with products, call 1-800-985-1353 M-F 9-4 CST.

Sources: The Weather Channel: 2011 Heat Superlatives; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Heat Stress in the Elderly; Mayo Clinic: Heatstroke; San Francisco State University Department of Geosciences


health500 said...

I spent a lot of time in the sun and 85-90 degree weather today. Now I have nausea, vomiting, dizziness, headache, intense muscle aches and tiredness. Do I need to been seen right away for this?

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