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protecting elderly from sun stroke

How to Protect an Aging Loved One (and Yourself) From Heat Stroke

As we enter the middle of summer, there is much to enjoy. Outdoor activities, a more relaxed atmosphere, lots of open windows and, of course, daylight saving time. And yet the warmer weather we have craved all winter long can reach dangerous levels which can have a serious impact on health, especially for older individuals.

Particularly vulnerable are older adults living alone. And, for those who are cognitively impaired, a decision not to come in out of the heat can result in becoming overheated. Overheating, without taking actions to cool off can lead to the most serious heat-related condition: heat stroke.

Heat is the number one weather-related killer in the U.S. On average, over 700 people die from heat-related conditions. And, in many cases, the individuals weren’t aware they were in danger until it was too late. Some of the most common symptoms of heat stroke are:

  • Dizziness, weakness and nausea.
  • Edema, causing swelling of feet and ankles.
  • Confusion, staggering and unusual behavior.
  • Dry, flushed skins and an abnormally high or weak pulse.
  • A sudden spike in temperature.

If you have an aging loved one and he or she experiences one or more of these symptoms, you need to take quick action to move them to a cool place, out of the sun. You should then elevate their feet and provide them with plenty of fluids. Then, if their symptoms persist, call their doctor and/or get them to an urgent care or emergency room.

Of course, the best way to keep your loved one safe from extreme heat is to do your best to keep them from getting into a situation where heat could become a problem. Here are some things to keep in mind, especially if you are traveling:

  • Keep them hydrated. This includes water and, when possible, drinks containing electrolytes. Avoid serving alcohol.
  • Have them wear lightweight clothing. Cotton and gauzy fabrics are great at keeping heat out.
  • Increase ventilation in their home. Open windows, use fans and close blinds to keep direct sunlight to a minimum.
  • Use air conditioning if possible. Make sure that vents have been cleaned and that you set the air conditioner to a level that is comfortable for your loved one. Avoid having them sit under or in front of a vent.
  • Minimize activity. While stretching and walking about is good for circulation, avoid having them engage in rigorous exercise.
  • Prepare light meals. Salads, sandwiches and cool drinks are more easily digested.
  • Avoid crowds and small, enclosed spaces. Heat builds up quickly in small areas.

And, above all, don’t hesitate to contact your loved one’s physician or take them to an emergency care facility if he or she shows signs of heat stroke.

At our Anthem Memory Care communities, we plan ahead for those hot days to ensure that our residents are comfortable. That means moving our activities indoors or on a cool patio and limiting unnecessary physical exertion. Keeping a supply of fresh fruit and plenty of water on hand helps our residents beat the heat and still enjoy the summer.

Remember, too, that you, yourself, should be following these tips. Caregivers often neglect their own comfort in their selfless efforts to care for their loved ones. Follow these tips and you will find it easier to enjoy the summer, while keeping cool and healthy!