The National Institute on Aging (NIA) tells us that during the summer, it is important for everyone, especially older adults and people with chronic medical conditions, to be aware of the dangers of hyperthermia. Hyperthermia is an abnormally high body temperature caused by a failure of the heat-regulating mechanisms in the body to deal with the heat coming from the environment.
Heat stroke, heat syncope (sudden dizziness after prolonged exposure to the heat), heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat fatigue are common forms of hyperthermia. Depending on the combination of outside temperature, general health and individual lifestyle, some people can be at increased risk for these conditions.
Elderly populations are prone to hyperthermia because of innate physiologic changes associated with aging, the presence of chronic disease and their medications. Hyperthermia is a true medical emergency that requires rapid cooling and aggressive supportive care. It has a high mortality rate.
Seniors, particularly those with chronic medical conditions, should stay indoors on hot and humid days, especially when an air pollution alert is in effect. If possible, they should stay inside with with air conditioning or at least a fan and air circulation.
The following lifestyle factors can increase the risk of hyperthermia: living in housing without air conditioning; not drinking enough fluids; not understanding how to respond to the weather conditions; lack of mobility and access to transportation; overdressing; and visiting overcrowded places.
People without air conditioners should go to places that have air conditioning, such as senior centers, shopping malls, movie theaters and libraries. Cooling centers, which often are set up by local public health agencies, religious groups and social service organizations, are another option.
The risk for hyperthermia can increase from:
- Age-related changes to the skin such as poor blood circulation and inefficient sweat glands
- Alcohol use
- Being substantially overweight or underweight
- Heart, lung and kidney diseases, in addition to any illness that causes general weakness or fever
- High blood pressure or other health conditions that require changes in diet. For example, people on salt-restricted diets may be at increased risk. Salt pills should not be used, however, without first consulting a physician.
- Reduced perspiration caused by medications such as diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers and certain heart and blood pressure drugs
- Use of multiple medications. It is important, however, to continue to take prescribed medication and discuss possible problems with a physician.
Heat stroke is a life-threatening form of hyperthermia. It occurs when the body is overwhelmed by heat and is unable to control its temperature. Heat stroke occurs when someone’s body temperature increases significantly (above 104 degrees) and shows symptoms including: strong rapid pulse, lack of sweating, dry flushed skin, mental status changes (like combativeness or confusion), staggering, faintness or coma. Seek immediate emergency medical attention for a person with any of these symptoms, especially an older adult.
If you suspect someone is suffering from a heat-related illness:
- Call 911 or get appropriate help immediately
- Get the person out of the heat and into a shady, cool or air-conditioned place. Urge the person to lie down.
If you or a loved one are considering in-home care services that might be needed to assist with helping you to help them, please call us. We are available from four to 24 hours a day. DayBreak is a locally owned and operated in-home care service. Call us at 803-226-0288 or go to DayBreakAiken.com.