NORMAN — Dear Savvy Senior, Can you write a column alerting seniors to the dangers of summertime heat? I manage a number of urgent care clinics, and last summer we had more than 200 cases of heat-related illnesses, most of whom were seniors. I would like to reduce that this year.
— Concerned Citizen
I certainly can. Most people don’t realize that extreme summer heat causes thousands of heat-related illnesses in the U.S. each year and kills more people than hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes combined; seniors are among the most vulnerable.
The reasons behind this are because the body’s ability to regulate temperature through blood circulation and sweat glands tends to decline with age. Bodies of older adults also contain far less water than a younger person, and older brains don’t recognize thirst as easily, making them more likely to get dehydrated.
In addition, many seniors have certain health problems that can increase their risk of hyperthermia (when the body overheats). These include:
· Underlying diseases like congestive heart failure, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD.
· Trouble walking or moving around
· Being overweight
· Having dementia or other problems with thinking skills.
Medications that some seniors take, like diuretics and other high blood pressure drugs, also can cause dehydration or affect the ability of their heart, blood vessels or sweat glands to respond to the heat.
Signs of danger: Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. The signs to watch for include a body temperature above 103 degrees, a rapid pulse rate, throbbing headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion and hot, dry skin with the absence of sweating. If you, or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, call 911 immediately because heat stroke is a medical emergency.
Heat exhaustion is milder and can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures. The warning signs are heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, fainting, dizziness, headache and nausea or vomiting.