With the world warming up and every summer just getting hotter and hotter, there are dangers to certain people who are more vulnerable than the rest of us. This is our elderly. They have less of the body fat that keeps them warm in cold winters and a slower thermostat adjusting to extreme weather changes. Although warmer weather is actually better for the retiree, it can also be an extreme threat when temperatures soar beyond comfortable limits as it did this past summer. Especially for those seniors who live on small fixed incomes that shrink in the face of inflation and recessions. Many of them never turn on an air conditioner. Just too expensive.
With the recent stretch of hot weather, local and statewide experts were advising that seniors take special care in avoiding the heat and staying cool. This will be true again this coming summer and even more true in the summers we face as the globe continues to heat up. So I thought I’d compile a list of tips that elders can follow to help them cope with this temperature rise.
Because many seniors do not sweat like they did when they were young and may also take medications such as antihistamines or diuretics that affect heat intake, seniors may need to take in more fluids. This is especially true for those on diuretics for heart conditions. Changes in body metabolism also effects the body’s natural thermostats, or heat regulators, and this is true in both seniors and young children. Skin thins out as we age, as well, creating sun related hazards to seniors who don’t get out of the heat.
Families with elderly members should install window air conditioners snugly, check air-conditioning ducts for proper insulation, and vacuum air conditioner filters weekly during periods of high use to provide more cool air. Those families who cannot afford air conditioning should see that seniors spend the hot hours of the day in a senior center where air conditioning is provided at no cost.
Dress older adults in light clothing and encourage them do their walking and socializing early in the day and later in the evening and not so much in the heat of the day. They should stay off of areas with hot asphalt, close knit tall buildings or areas with no shade. Populate your home with fans if you cannot add an air conditioner and use them to keep air circulating. For those who cannot afford central air, consider installing a window air conditioner in the elderly persons room to be used only during the hottest times of the day.
Make sure that older adults have access to fluids, even just tap water, and have them take cold showers when they show signs of overheating, ie: heavy breathing, reddened skin, weakness, or confusion. A good idea is to freeze water bottles in the freezer and then use them during the day, both to drink and to cool down the skin. Another tip: Put a wet washcloth or two in the freezer as well and use them on the skin when people begin to get too warm.
Do not let elderly folk work out in the yard or play outdoor games during the heat of the day. If work must be done, trade off and let people take breaks, encouraging showering, rubbing down with cold towels or drinking lots of fluids. Provide shade. Check on old people often during the summer time, making sure they are feeling ok. Any signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke should be treated swiftly, even if it means going to the ER.
These ideas may seem like common sense, a little trite, perhaps. But people don’t often think of this problem, believing that the heat isn’t all that bad and waiting until things get scary. Too many seniors die every summer, mostly from living in hot, dry conditions without air conditioning. They need to be schooled in how to cope with hot weather, most especially in those areas that have just begun to get real hot in the summer and people are used to battling the colder weather year round.
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