Senior Living Q & A: Senior safety during summer heat

Q. With the current 90 plus temperatures, what do I need to know about safety in the heat of summer?

As we get older, our risk for developing heat-related illness increases because our body's ability to adequately respond to summer heat can become less efficient.

Hyperthermia is the name given to a variety of heat-related illnesses that can include heat stroke, heat fatigue, heat syncope (sudden dizziness after exercising in the heat), heat cramps and heat exhaustion.

A person's risk for hyperthermia is based not only on the outside temperature; it includes the general health and lifestyle of the individual.

Health factors that may increase risk include poor blood circulation, high blood pressure and heart, lung and kidney diseases. Various medications can have an impact, and so can being substantially overweight or underweight. Drinking alcoholic beverages as well as being dehydrated also are factors.

Lifestyle factors can also increase risk, including extremely hot living quarters, overdressing, visiting overcrowded places and not understanding weather conditions. Older people, particularly those at special risk, should stay indoors on particularly hot and humid days, especially when there is an air pollution alert in effect. People without fans or air conditioners should go to places such as shopping malls, movie theatres and libraries.

Heat stroke is an advanced form of hyperthermia that occurs when the body is overwhelmed by heat and unable to control its temperature. As a person's body temperature rises rapidly, the body loses its ability to sweat and cool itself down. Heat stroke is especially dangerous for older people and requires emergency medical attention. Here are five tips on what to do if you suspect someone is suffering from a heat-related illness:

Get the person out of the sun and into an air-conditioned or other cool place.

Offer fluids such as water, fruit and vegetable juices, but avoid alcohol and caffeine.

Encourage the individual to shower, bathe or sponge off with cool water.

Apply a cold, wet cloth to the wrists and/or neck, places where arterial blood passes close to the surface and the cold cloths can help cool the blood.

Urge the person to lie down and rest, preferably in a cool place.

Enjoy the summer and be safe.

NANCY TURNEY received a bachelor's degree in social work and a certificate in gerontology. If you have a specific question you would like answered in this column, email it to or call Turney at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA, (818) 790-0123, ext. 225.

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