Summer is here, enjoy in moderation!

Summer is here, enjoy in moderation!

Recommendations for elders and caregivers to reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses

We all know that hot weather can be dangerous. For older adults, the risk increases significantly for a variety of reasons, including: aging-related physical changes in the body, chronic health conditions and even side effects of taking some medications.

As the summer begins, our bodies will take time to get acclimatized to higher temperatures, so attention should be doubled when in these first days of the season. Temperature peaks may vary depending on the region, but many places in Canada may experience extreme heat events called “heat-waves”(1) that can put health at risk and even cause deaths.

SeniorsZen has collected important precautionary measures to be taken by seniors and caregivers to minimize the risks of illnesses that caused by sun or heat exposure. (2)

Cool down room temperature: It’s recommended to use air conditioners to control the temperature in the rooms. If air conditioning is not available, windows should be kept open and a fan blowing to the opposite direction of the window to increase air flow.

Identify group at higher risk: Extra attention should be given to those elders who are at a higher risk of heat-related illnesses, such as elderly with breathing difficulties, heart problems, hypertension, kidney problems; mental illness such as depression or dementia, Parkinson's disease or if they are taking medication for any of these conditions or for allergies.

Dress appropriately: Make sure that seniors are dressed accordingly to the weather. In hot days, they should wear loose-fitting, light-coloured clothing made of breathable fabric to allow their bodies to release heat.

Reduce sun exposure: When doing outdoor activities, seniors should shade themselves by wearing a wide-brimmed, breathable hat, or using an umbrella. For individuals extremely sensitive to the sun, it’s advised to keep legs covered and avoid wearing shorts.

Use sunscreen: A senior should always use sunscreen sun protection factor (SPF) 15 or higher and follow the manufacturer's directions. However, it’s important to remember that sunscreen will help to protect against the sun's UV rays, but not from the heat.

Protect the eyes: Eyes should be protected by always making use of good quality sunglasses when outdoors. However, it’s required to remove sunglasses before entering the building to prevent accidents as the eyes of elder adults take a longer time to adjust from a brighter to a darker light. Once inside, make a pause to make sure the eyesight is adjusted to the diminished light.


***Tree-shaded areas can be as much as 5ºC/9ºF cooler than the surrounding areas.(1)


Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of liquid is advisable for anyone of any age, but elderly people require to be regularly monitored as they have an extra risk of getting dehydrated due to the decrease of the sense of thirst as they age. Sometimes seniors need to be reminded to take liquids and stay well-hydrated, because, by the time an elderly feels thirsty, he or she may be already dehydrated.


Dehydration is a dangerous problem that can easily escalate to hospitalization and a life-threatening condition to an elderly person.

Additionally, all seniors and their caregivers should be aware of symptoms of heat illness, which include:(2)

  • dizziness or fainting;
  • nausea or vomiting;
  • headache;
  • rapid breathing and heartbeat;
  • extreme thirst (dry mouth or sticky saliva); and
  • decreased urination with unusually dark yellow urine.

*If any of the above symptoms are experienced during hot weather, the individual should, immediately get moved to a cool place and take liquids. Water is best.


Heat stroke is a medical emergency! Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. If you realize the senior has a high body temperature and is either unconscious, confused or has stopped sweating, call emergency services.


While help is on the way, take preliminary measures to cool the person rapidly by:

  • moving them to a cool place, if you can;
  • applying cold water to large areas of the skin or clothing; and
  • fanning the person as much as possible.

 

Source:
  1. Sun Safety – Government of Canada: http://healthycanadians.gc.ca/healthy-living-vie-saine/environment-environnement/sun-soleil/heat-extreme-chaleur-eng.php
  2. Environmental and Workplace Health, Sun Safety for Elders – Government of Canada: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ewh-semt/pubs/climat/heat-adults-chaleur/index-eng.php
 
 
Written by Eveline Pinto
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