Elizabeth S. Reames, Merrill, Thomas A. | 8/3/2006 2:37:12 AM
Hot weather is bigger problem for older people than others, since senior adults’ ability to respond appropriately to the summer heat becomes less efficient with advancing years.
That means older people are at higher risk for developing heat-related illnesses, says LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames.
"The good news is that everyone – young and old alike – can remain safe from the heat and enjoy the summer if they just use common sense and sound judgment," Reames says. "Try to avoid strenuous activities during the hottest parts of the day, and watch for signs that you may have developed some form of heat-related illness."
The general term "hyperthermia" is given to a variety of heat-related illnesses and includes such forms as heat stress, heat fatigue, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat syncope (dizziness).
"The noticeable symptoms of heat-related illnesses may include such things as a headache, muscle spasms, fatigue or nausea after being exposed to the heat," Reames says. "If you suspect you are suffering from a heat-related illness, or if you think someone else may be, it’s important to take the appropriate actions as quickly as possible."
The LSU AgCenter expert offers these tips from the National Institutes of Health regarding actions to take:
–Get the victim out of the sun and into a cool place, preferably one that is air-conditioned.
–Offer fluids, but avoid alcohol and caffeine. Water, fruit juices and vegetable juices are best.
–Encourage the individual to shower, bathe or sponge off with cool water.
–Urge the person to lie down and rest, preferably in a cool place.
"The NIH points out that heat stroke is especially dangerous for older people and requires emergency medical attention," Reames says. "A person with heat stroke has a body temperature above 104 and may have symptoms such as confusion, combativeness, bizarre behavior, faintness, staggering, strong rapid pulse, dry flushed skin, lack of sweating, possible delirium or coma."
Experts say the air temperature doesn’t have to hit 100 for a person to be at risk for heat-related illnesses.
An individual’s general health and lifestyle can affect the risks, and the NIH says such factors as poor circulation, heart disease, kidney disease, lung disease, reduced- sodium diets, taking drugs such as diuretics or sedatives, being underweight or overweight and drinking alcohol can increase the risks. Staying in extremely hot living quarters and being in overcrowded conditions also can increase the risks, according to the experts.
"People who know they are at increased risk should stay indoors on especially hot and humid days," Reames says. "If you don’t have air conditioning or fans sufficient to keep your home cool, it’s a good idea to consider going to someplace where you can stay cool – like a shopping mall, movie theater or public library."
For those who don’t have a means of transportation or access to reliable public transportation, Reames says not to hesitate to ask friends, relatives or neighbors who may be able to help. She also points out that a variety of community groups, religious organizations and senior centers often provide help with transportation and/or open their doors as "cooling centers."
For general information on nutrition and health, as well as a variety of other topics, visit www.lsuagcenter.com. To obtain a free copy of the National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Aging’s page on hyperthermia and other important health information, phone (800) 222-2225 or go to http://www.niapublications.org/agepages/hyperther.asp.