Summer is a fun, exciting time that affords older adults the opportunity to spend more times outdoors enjoying the weather. However, extreme summer temperatures can have deadly consequences for aging parents. Heat stroke, also known as sun stroke, is a medical emergency that is often fatal if not treated properly or promptly.
According to the National Weather Service, heat is the number one weather-related killer. On average, more than 1,500 people in the U.S. die each year from excessive heat — greater than annual number of deaths due to tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and lightning combined.
Heat stroke is a form of hyperthermia defined as body temperature of 104 F (40 C) that results from prolonged exposure to extreme heat, often seen in conjunction with dehydration. As the body’s core temperature rises to dangerous levels, nervous system function is comprised.
Older adults and the elderly are particularly heat sensitive and more prone to heat stroke for several reasons. Risk factors include:
- Naturally aging processes – As we get older, the body’s ability to regulate temperature changes. Older adults do not adjust as well as young people to fluctuations in temperature.
- Prescription medications – Certain medications can impair the body’s ability to regulate temperature and perspiration
- Living with a chronic condition – The presence of a chronic condition such as heart disease, kidney disease, or lung disease can change the way a person responds to heat
- Sociodemographic factors – Seniors who live alone may ignore symptoms of heat stroke. Low-income elderly may be reluctant to run fans or air conditioner units during summer months to reduce costs.
While heat stroke is not the same as a brain-based stroke, it is a serious medical condition that results in a number of troubling symptoms, including:
- Rapid heart rate
- Hot, dry skin with no sweating
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
The best way to protect older adults from heat stroke is to monitor conditions in the home. Make sure the dwelling has adequate ventilation and check in often to investigate for physical signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion. Another smart practice is to conduct a medication review with the physician and evaluate fluid intake.
What other tips can you share for protecting aging friends and family from heat stroke?