Heat wave poses special risks to older people

Consumer Reports News: July 15, 2011 01:08 PM

As temperatures and humidity rise across much of the U.S., people 65 and older are among the most vulnerable to heat stroke and heat exhaustion, according to the National Institute on Aging. That’s because the body’s ability to regulate temperature through blood circulation and sweat glands tends to decline with age.

Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. The signs include:
• A body temperature above 103 degrees F
• Red, hot, and dry skin with no sweating
• Rapid, strong pulse
• Throbbing headache
• Dizziness
• Nausea

Heat exhaustion is milder and can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures. The warning signs are heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, fainting, dizziness, headache, and nausea or vomiting.

Bottom line: Watch for the signs of heat stroke and heat exhaustion, especially if you’re 65 or older. If you think your getting too hot, look for a place to cool off. That can be a pool, or air-conditioned museums, libraries, movie theaters, or shopping malls. And if you have an older relative or neighbor, try and visit them at least twice a day on sweltering summer days. If you see signs of severe heat stress, take steps to cool the person down right away—either by giving them a cool bath or shower or sponging or spraying them with cool water—and seek immediate medical assistance.

Read more on how to keep your cool on hot days.

Tips for Older Adults to Combat Heat-Related Illnesses [National Institute on Aging]
Extreme Heat: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]

Ginger Skinner

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