By Dr. Jeffrey Luther,
Now that it is summertime, the heat is building up.
As you age to around 55 to 65 years old, your ability to respond appropriately to the heat can start to become a serious problem, because as you get older you are at an increased risk of heat-related illnesses. These include:
- Heat stroke.
- Heat edema, or swelling in your ankles and feet when you get hot.
- Heat syncope, or sudden dizziness after exercising in the heat.
- Heat cramps.
- Heat exhaustion.
Although heat affects everyone differently, it is especially dangerous in individuals aged 65 and older.
Older adults have a difficult time adjusting quickly to temperature changes. As the temperature outside begins to rise, it is important for seniors to recognize warning signs that are crucial for their health.
While heat-related illnesses can differ greatly, they typically share certain symptoms. It is important to recognize the symptoms of heat-related illnesses to understand how to combat them.
Common symptoms of heat-related illnesses include:
- Throbbing headaches.
- Hot or dry skin.
- Body temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
- Decreased sweat and tear production.
- Rapid heartbeat of more than 90 beats per minute.
- Difficulty walking.
A common cause of heat-related illnesses is dehydration. Dehydration occurs when your body loses more fluids than it has taken in. This means there is not enough water and other important substances, lsuch as electrolytes, in your body.
Anyone can become dehydrated, but it is particularly dangerous as you age.
As you grow older, your brain reacts slower to the sense of thirst. This decreased sense, combined with age-related memory loss, can make it especially difficult for some to remember to drink water throughout the day, putting them at an increased risk for dehydration. Untreated dehydration can be life threatening in adults over 65. So, it’s important to drink water regularly, not just when you’re thirsty.
Another factor to consider when it comes to heat-related illnesses is poor blood circulation.
As adults age, their blood circulation gets poorer and their sweat glands become more inefficient – essentially, as you age, you don’t sweat as much.
Additional factors can be heart, lung and kidney disease, along with other illnesses that may cause general weakness or fever, which increase the likelihood of developing heat-related illnesses.
Medications can also impact your ability to regulate temperature, so be sure to discuss these concerns with your physician.
Aging also impacts the kidneys, causing them to work less efficiently as time goes on and leading to fluid imbalances.
Some medications, such as diuretics, specifically help rid your body of sodium and water. But because of this, they can lead to dehydration. Be sure to drink plenty of water while on medication.
While heat-related illnesses may have a great impact on the physical and mental health of seniors, they are fairly easy to combat and prevent. Staying inside and wearing loose, cool clothing, as well as regularly drinking water, is the easiest way to prevent the development of heat-related illnesses.
Some tips on how to stay cool this summer and prevent heat-related illnesses are:
- Stay in air-conditioned buildings. Don’t rely on a fan as your main cooling source.
- If air-conditioning is not possible, go to cooling centers.
- Try not to use a stove or oven to cook, as this will make your house hotter.
- Try not to engage in very strenuous activities.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Take cool showers or baths.
- Check the local news for weather advisories and health and safety updates.
- Don’t overdress.
Contracting heat-related illnesses is preventable.
If you or someone you know has symptoms of heat-related illness, seek medical care immediately and continue checking the local news for health and safety updates. It is possible to enjoy the warmer summer months comfortably with the right knowledge and preparation.
Dr. Jeffrey Luther, a native of Southern California, came to MemorialCare in 1993 and was attracted to family medicine for its breadth and the opportunity to have lasting relationships with his patients across the age spectrum. As a faculty member of the Family Medicine Residency Program at MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center, he balances his time providing patient care with teaching the next generation of family physicians.
Source: Orange County Register