Brandenburg: Heat can be fatal

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June has baked us to a crisp and July isn’t going to be any better with temperatures in the triple digits. As bad as it can get for most of us, it’s even more dangerous for the elderly. They are at higher risk for hyperthermia because of the normal aging process of decreased autonomic responses for cooling, chronic medical conditions and certain medications.

Symptoms of hyperthermia range from discomfort to more serious conditions like a rapid heart rate or fainting. The body’s reduced ability to regulate temperature can lead to medical problems for the elderly who sometimes see their conditions exacerbated by medications and the environment which affect their ability to maintain a proper body temperature. Sweating cools the body and shivering warms the body.

Although there is variation among individuals, the elderly lose the ability to regulate their body heat, due to a reduced ability to sweat. Circulation problems increase body heat. Decreased thirst awareness affects body temperature as dehydration further reduces the body’s ability to maintain temperature.

Stay cool, stay hydrated

  • Stay in air conditioning as much as possible. If your home doesn’t have air conditioning, contact your local health department or locate an air-conditioned shelter in your area. Identify places in your community where you can get cool such as libraries, casinos and shopping malls.
  • Do not rely on a fan as your main cooling source. Fans create air flow and a false sense of comfort; they do not reduce body temperature or prevent heat-related illnesses.
  • Drink plenty of water. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty. If your doctor limits your fluids or has you on water pills, ask how much you should drink during hot weather.
  • Don’t use the stove or oven to cook. It will make you and your house hotter.
  • Take cool showers or baths to cool down.
  • Check on a friend or neighbor and have someone do the same for you.
  • Use window reflectors specifically designed to reflect heat back outside.
  • Seek medical care immediately if you have symptoms of heat-related illness like muscle cramps, dizziness, headaches, nausea, weakness or vomiting.
  • Educate yourself. Keep up with the latest temperature and heat index forecasts and current readings.

Al Brandenburg is a member of Maricopa Community Advocates.
This column was first published in the July edition of InMaricopa magazine.
Sources: healthfully.com, AARP, cdc.gov, lifespan.org, chgseniorliving.com