Logan City can be a hot place to live and if you add in heat waves which are a potentially deadly problem, summer can be a rough time for elderly people.
In 2020, 177 people died due to heat in Queensland with over 70 per cent being people aged over 65.
Part of the problem lies in the fact that seniors often don’t realize when they are overheated, dehydrated and in danger. To make matters worse, older adults simply can’t handle the heat as well as younger individuals because they don’t sweat as effectively and have poorer circulation.
Obesity, heart disease, dementia, diabetes and other chronic medical conditions can compound the risk, as can certain medications like diuretics, antihypertensives and those used to treat Parkinson’s disease.
Luckily, there are simple ways of protecting our aging loved ones from heat-related illness.
To protect seniors from the unrelenting summer heat, the standard advice is for them to remain inside air-conditioned buildings, dress lightly and keep hydrated. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done, since poor circulation often causes older adults to catch a chill more easily. It’s not uncommon for an elder to reach for a sweater or turn on the heat in their home even though it’s unbearably hot outside.
Dehydration is another serious concern. The body’s natural thirst mechanism becomes less effective with age, so many seniors are perpetually dehydrated regardless of the season. Elders tend to prefer beverages like coffee and soda to water, too. Drinks that are high in caffeine and sugar do contain some fluids, but water is always the best option for staying hydrated.
While dehydration and overheating can be dangerous, the real threat to avoid this summer is heat stroke.
Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion in Elderly Individuals
- Sweating profusely
- Cold, pale and clammy skin
- Fast, weak pulse
- Nausea or vomiting
- Muscle cramps
- Tiredness or weakness
Symptoms of Heat Stroke in Seniors
- High body temperature (39°C or higher)
- Hot, red, dry or damp skin
- Fast, strong pulse
- Loss of consciousness
Be on especially high alert for confusion or altered mental state in seniors who are out in hot weather. If your loved one should collapse or lose consciousness, it’s considered a medical emergency and 000 should be called immediately. While you are waiting for help, move them to a cooler location, remove as much of their clothing as possible and pour cold water all over their body to bring their body temperature down.
If your loved one doesn’t have air conditioning or refuses to use it, make sure they spend at least some time in a cool, air-conditioned space like a library, mall, senior centre or theatre.