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Heat Stroke - Real Danger for the Elderly

The risk of heat-related illnesses, such as heat stroke and heat exhaustion, increases with age, experts at the U.S. National Institute on Aging warn.

As people get older they are less able to adapt to high temperatures, like those engulfing much of the Metro DC area now. As a result, the heat might exacerbate any medical conditions they have.

In addition, older folks may develop certain health problems that could increase their risk of hyperthermia (when the body overheats).

An elderly person's environment can also influence their response to the heat. For instance, not having access to air conditioning or transportation, or overdressing could put them at greater risk for heat-related illnesses involving hyperthermia, including heat fatigue; heat syncope (lightheadedness or fainting in the heat); heat cramps; and heat exhaustion (milder form of heat-related illness).

What are the signs and differences between Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion?
Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs when the body becomes unable
to control its temperature: the body's temperature rises rapidly, the body loses its ability to sweat, and it is unable to cool down. Body temperatures rise to 106 ° F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.

Signs and Symptoms of Heat Stroke
Warning signs vary but may include the following:

• An extremely high body temperature (above 103°F)
• Red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating)
• Rapid, strong pulse
• Throbbing headache
• Dizziness
• Nausea

Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids.

Signs and Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion
Warning signs vary but may include the following:

• Heavy sweating
• Paleness
• Muscle Cramps
• Tiredness
• Weakness
• Dizziness
• Headache
• Nausea or vomiting
• Fainting
• Skin: may be cool and moist
• Pulse rate: fast and weak
• Breathing: fast and shallow

You can follow these prevention tips to protect yourself from heat-related stress:
• Drink cool, nonalcoholic, non-caffeinated beverages. (If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask him how much you should drink when the weather is hot. Also, avoid extremely cold liquids because they can cause cramps.)

• Rest.
• Take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath.
• If possible, seek an air-conditioned environment.
• If you don't have air conditioning, consider visiting an air-conditioned shopping mall or
public library to cool off.
• Keep warm areas ventilation if not cooled. Proper ventilation will promote adequate sweat
evaporation to cool the skin.
• Wear lightweight clothing.
• If possible, remain indoors in the heat of the day.
• Do not engage in strenuous activities.
• Sunblocks and sunscreens with a protection factor of 15 (SPF 15) can be very helpful when one is exposed to extreme direct sunlight.

What You Can Do to Help Protect Elderly Relatives and Neighbors
If you have elderly relatives or neighbors, you can help them protect themselves from heat-related stress:

• Visit older adults at risk at least twice a day and watch them for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
• Take them to air-conditioned locations if they have transportation problems.
• Make sure older adults have access to an electric fan whenever possible.