As you age, the body’s mechanisms that help regulate internal temperature become less efficient. This means that you lose some of your ability to adapt to heat, leaving you with a lower tolerance and making you more susceptible to heat-related illnesses.
This is caused by a few different reasons – one being that an adult older than 65 doesn’t sweat as much as a younger individual. Sweating helps to cool the body. Also, an older adult may be more likely to have a chronic condition or be on medication that affects the body’s ability to respond to heat.
Called hyperthermia, heat-related illnesses can include heat exhaustion, cramps, fatigue and stroke (also called sun stroke). Symptoms can include a flushed face, high body temperature, headache, nausea, rapid pulse, dizziness or lack of sweating.
Hyperthermia is caused as blood rushes to the skin’s surface as the body tries to cool itself. As a result, less blood reaches the brain, muscles and other organs, which can interfere with muscle strength and mental capacity. In severe cases, this can be dangerous.
According to the National Institute on Aging, if someone is suspected of suffering from a heat-related illness, you should:
Get the person out of the heat and into a shady, air-conditioned or other cool place. Urge him or her to lie down.
If the person can swallow safely, offer fluids such as water, fruit or vegetable juices. Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
Encourage the individual to shower, bathe or sponge off with cool water.
Apply a cold, wet cloth to the wrists, neck, armpits and/or groin area. These are places where blood passes close to the surface of the skin and the cold cloths can help cool the blood.
Call 911 if you suspect heat stroke.
The best defense with a heat-related illness, however, is to prevent it from ever occurring. Arm yourself with some heat-related knowledge and take sensible precautions. Here are some tips to enjoy a warmer day safely:
Stay hydrated. Drink water often, even if you don’t feel thirsty.
Check your medicines. Some may make you more sensitive to the sun. Ask your doctor.
Wear sunscreen. Apply before you head outside, and reapply often.
Wear proper clothing. Wear lightweight, breathable clothing, long sleeves and a wide-brimmed hat.
Wear sunglasses. Look for those that protect from UVB and UVA rays.
Go indoors. Mid-day sun is the hottest. Plan indoor activities for those times. Stay in air-conditioned areas when it’s hot outside.
Take cool showers or baths to cool down. QCBN
By Wendi Campbell, BSN, RN
Mountain Valley Regional Rehabilitation Hospital is a 44-bed, free-standing rehabilitation hospital that provides specialized physical rehabilitation services to patients recovering from strokes, brain and spinal cord injuries, orthopedic injuries, and other disabilities caused by injuries, illnesses, or chronic medical conditions. The hospital is consistently ranked in the Top 10 percent of inpatient rehabilitation facilities nationally by the Uniform Data System for Medical Rehabilitation (UDSMR). For more information, visit MVRRH.ernesthealth.com. 3700 N. Windsong Drive • Prescott Valley, AZ 86314 • 928-759-8800 • mvrrh.ernesthealth.com
Wendi Campbell, BSN, RN, is the director of Nursing Operations at Mountain Valley Regional Rehabilitation Hospital.