Summer is here and for some, it means getting really hot under the collar. Heat stress occurs when our body is unable to cool itself enough to maintain a healthy temperature. Normally, the body cools itself by sweating, but sometimes sweating isn’t enough and the body temperature keeps rising. Heat-related illness can range from mild conditions such as a rash or cramps to very serious conditions such as heat stroke which can kill if not observed.
Over exertion in hot weather and exercising or working in hot, poorly ventilated or confined areas can increase your risk of heat stress. You don’t have to be outside to suffer heat stress. Heat can also make an existing medical condition worse, for example heart disease.
Anyone can suffer from heat-related illness, but those most at risk are:
- People over 65 years, particularly those living alone or without air conditioning
- Young children (including babies), pregnant and nursing mums
- People who are physically unwell, especially with heart disease, high blood pressure or lung disease
- Some people on medications for mental illness.
Elderly people are more prone to heat stress than younger people because their body may not adjust well to sudden or prolonged temperature change. They are also more likely to have a chronic medical condition and be taking medication that may interfere with the body’s ability to regulate temperature. Depending on the elderly’s mental state, they may not even realise they are over-heating.
The body’s ideal temperature is 37 degrees. The body cools itself by sweating, which normally accounts for 70 to 80 per cent of the body’s heat loss. If a person becomes dehydrated, they don’t sweat as much and their body temperature keeps rising.
The elderly may not always be able to access a drink by themselves and therefore even more important that they are monitored during the hot summer days. If left alone, they may even suffer heat stroke which is an extremely dangerous condition. Heat stroke occurs when the core body temperature rises above 40.5C and the body’s internal systems start to shut down. Many organs in the body suffer damage and the body temperature must be reduced quickly. They are basically cooking inside. Most people will have profound central nervous system changes such as delirium, coma and seizures. The person may stagger, appear confused, have a fit or collapse and become unconscious. As well as effects on the nervous system, there can be liver, kidney, muscle and heart damage. With heat stroke, the skin may be dry and their mental condition will be deteriorating. They may also experience heat rash, dizziness, cramps and be totally exhausted.
Urgent treatment may be required. Prevention is easier than the treatment. Ensure they are checked on at least twice a day, have adequate ventilation, maybe a fan or air conditioning, they eat light meals to maintain their energy and take it easy with lots of rest. If you notice an elderly person is suffering from heat related stress, then call a doctor urgently or take them to a hospital. Then loosen their clothing and wet their skin with water and put a fan on them to drop their temperature. Do not give them fluids to drink at this stage. If they are already unconscious, then roll them on their side and clear their airway.
If you are unable to monitor someone elderly, then reach out and ask Your Home Care to assist and know your loved ones are being cared for and safe.