Summer time brings the long awaited warm weather and bright sun. It is the season of picnics, celebrations, parades and family reunions. We enjoy basking in the warmth and spending hours outdoors. For seniors however, these seasonal gifts bring additional risks and concerns including the significant risk for dehydration and heat stress.
Seniors are at risk for dehydration and heat stress as they cannot easily adapt to changing temperatures, they may have chronic medical conditions that impair their normal response to excessive heat and they may take medications that can affect how they respond to high temperatures.
Natural changes of aging in the elder predispose them to an increased risk as their bodies are unable to sufficiently respond to and recover from elevated temperatures. Seniors are less able to perspire which is one of the body’s primary mechanisms for regulating temperature. Many seniors do not feel the heat as a younger person does, though they are being affected by it. Seniors tend to feel cooler than younger people and dress in layers of clothing that will retain body heat and make the senior warmer.
Seniors also have decreased thirst and hunger sensations which may limit their desire to eat and drink sufficiently to remain hydrated in warm weather. Elders have less muscle mass which reduces the amount of water within their tissues. Many seniors do not drink enough liquid to remain properly hydrated as they may have impaired mobility that limits their access to obtaining frequent beverages, they avoid drinking liquids to minimize trips to the bathroom or they take medications like diuretics (fluid pills) that predispose them to dehydration.
In summer it is essential that elders are able to be in cool settings, be monitored for signs of heat stress and get prompt medical attention if they have symptoms including:
- Muscle Cramps
- Nausea or vomiting
- Cool and moist skin
- Fast and weak pulse rate
- Fast and shallow breathing
What to do:
- Keep elders indoors (with fans or air conditioning) during excessive heat.
- Minimize physical exertion.
- Choose lightweight clothing.
- Monitor seniors frequently when the temperature is hot, checking on them at least twice a day.
- Assure they have sufficient liquids to drink and the ability to drink them regularly.
- Assure seniors have fans and access to locations with air conditioning during prolonged hot spells.
- Take measure to immediately cool them down including seeking shade, providing cool cloths or sponging them down with cool water.
- Call for emergency medical treatment if needed