Dehydration and Heat Stroke

Jul 08, 2010

SUMMER HEAT is upon us and it creates a wide variety of situations that can result in risks to health and safety. Each year an average of 400 people in the U.S. die from heat-related illnesses including dehydration and heat stroke, reports the Center for Disease control (CDC). July and August are two of the most deadly months and individuals with a disability and older adults are especially at risk from the summer heat. Risk avoidance can protect you and your Client’s health. For instance, alcohol, caffeinated beverages (sodas, coffee, tea), certain medications (blood pressure, heart, tranquilizers, anti-motion sickness), age (less body fat to store water, decreased efficiency of sweat glands, decreased sensitivities), disease (kidney, diabetes, heart, paralysis, Parkinson’s, obesity, fever, decreased mental capacity), decreased air flow (no air conditioning, using a fan without open windows) can affect, combine and cause serious illness when environmental temperatures soar. Air quality deteriorates, excess humidity causes mold and pollen overgrowth as well as a decreased efficiency of the sweat process, overheating, breathing and allergies can become a real problem.

There are things you can do to make these hot spells safer and more bearable for yourself and your Client:

1) Water, water, water. If you can’t drink it “straight”, try the flavored zero calorie varieties, but do drink it up. The human body renews itself best with plain water. Drink more of it in heat emergency periods – even if you’re not thirsty. Sugared, carbonated and caffeinated beverages can actually worsen dehydration!

2) Malls, restaurants, senior centers, community and recreation centers, movies, libraries and museums, even some modes of public transportation customarily have air conditioning for you to access during the worst of the heat.

3) Light, loose-fitting clothing helps expose more skin to air flow to help the body cool itself and light-colored clothing attracts less heat than dark colors. Use fewer layers and expose more skin to promote evaporation of normal sweat.

4) Schedule days to be indoors at the height of the heat, move appointments and physical exertions to cooler periods of the day.

5) Avoid direct sun exposure, use umbrellas, shades and wide brimmed hats.

6) Air flow! Use a fan in a well-ventilated area (it doesn’t help to simply blow hot air around a closed room), open windows on the shaded side of the house. Draw the curtains and blinds on the sunny side of the house, but do not obstruct air flow.

7) Central air conditioning is just great. To cut the costs of operation, install one of the new quiet-running window models for night time operation or in the room where most of the day is spent.

8) “Kiddie pools” and even just dishpans of cool water are great for cooling off hot feet. Keep a clean, not used for any other fluid, spray bottle of water in the fridge and use it frequently to mist your face and neck. Damp cloths can be frozen in the freezer and laid across the back of the neck. Popsicles are an easy way to get more fluids on board. Fill an ice tray with your favorite juice. Take more frequent showers or tub baths – tepid water works best to cool you off.

9) Switch to easy meal preparation that doesn’t involve the cooking oven. Lighten food consumption slightly by avoiding full heavy meals. Increase fruits, salads and soups to increase water intake.

10) Cut down on electric light usage.

11) Don’t use salt tablets unless they’re prescribed by a doctor.

12) No one should remain in an automobile with the windows up during summer months unless air conditioning is running.

13) Check out resources in the area – local Area Agencies on Aging and senior centers often have cooling and misting centers, local groups give out fans, there are friendly visitor programs that will help unstick windows and find stored away looser clothing, there may even be energy assistance available for additional electricity costs.

Heat Article Resources: National Institute on Aging Federal Emergency Management Agency