Summer months in Florida often remind us of family reunions: charcoal grills smelling up the yard and the constant hum of the overhead fan at grandma's. But the steamy 98º outdoor temperature is almost unbearable. Good thing you can just step inside your grandparents' home and feel the sweet relief of 78º air conditioning. Or can you? As you arrive for this year’s family reunion, the front door opens and greets you with a blast of hot air. You ask your grandparents why it’s so hot inside their home and they respond with, “It feels fine to me!” You peek at the air conditioner's digital temperature gauge and find that the system is set to run at 86 degrees.
Should you and other family visitors worry about the high temperatures affecting an older adult? It may not be a bad idea to make sure older adults and loved ones don’t get overheated during the hot and humid summer months. Most heat-related hospitalizations occur in adults 65 and older, according to an online study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Older adults may be affected by high temperatures because their ability to maintain or regulate body temperature diminishes as they age. In some cases, some may also have a reduced sense of thirst, placing them at a high risk of being dehydrated.
Persistent exposure to high temperatures increases the likelihood of developing a heat-related illness, being hospitalized due to heat exhaustion or, even worse, suffering a heat stroke. Being exposed to high temperatures and suffering dehydration may worsen the health conditions of patients with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and those with Alzheimer’s or other dementias.
Medications, such as diuretics, antihistamines, and blood pressure medications, can impact the body’s ability to perspire (sweat). If a person is not able to replenish the fluids lost while sweating, he or she may become dehydrated and the risk of heat-related illnesses may increase. Dehydration can cause seniors to become dizzy and confused, increase the risk of falls and injury, contribute to urinary tract infections, and even intensify behavior problems in adults with dementia.
Heat edema: swelling of the hands, legs, and feet. Wedding rings may feel tight. Likewise, shoes and socks may also feel tight and binding. Sitting or standing for long periods increases the risk of developing heat edemas, especially around the feet and lower legs.
Heat rash or prickly heat: rash occurs on the skin; sweat gland pores can become blocked in certain skin areas.
Heat cramps: cramps and involuntary muscle spasms can arise after physical activity and exercise; cramping is often associated with loss of fluids, sodium, and other essential minerals.
Heat syncope: dizziness, loss of consciousness, and fainting can happen independently or in combination with other heat-related symptoms.
Heat exhaustion: dehydration and reduced blood flow contribute to the occurrence of heat exhaustion. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include profuse perspiration, headache, nausea, heart rate increase, muscle cramps, and dizziness. Being disoriented could signal the next level of severity or heat stroke.
Heat stroke: body temperature rises above 104ºF. This is the most severe form of heat-related illness and can ultimately impair the nervous system by affecting cognitive function and causing delirium, seizures, and, eventually, a coma. According to a report by the National Institutes of Health, there are revealing symptoms that may precede a heat stroke, which include: nausea, headache, confusion, and aggressive behavior.
Symptoms of dehydration may vary in severity. If you are concerned about an older adult under your care, you should never wait for symptoms of dehydration to worsen before contacting a doctor. Symptoms may include the following:
Staying in close contact and visiting vulnerable older adults, especially those who live alone, is critical in making sure they remain healthy and safe during the hot summer months. Face to face communication and social interaction provides valuable insight into a loved one’s health and provides the opportunity to assess their immediate needs.
We hope this blog provides helpful information to you and your family. Should you or your family need assistance in caring for a loved one in the near future, and would like to inquire about home health care services, call Senior Helpers Orlando at (407) 628-4357. We will be glad to schedule a meeting at your earliest convenience. Senior Helpers Orlando provides Alzheimer’s care and home health care services in the counties of Orange, Osceola and Seminole.
Ana P. DeLane
Senior Helpers Orlando Team Member