Australia is known for its high summer temperatures and this season looks to be no exception. Seniors are particularly vulnerable in the heat and should be monitored closely.
Heat-related illness occurs when the body can no longer transfer enough heat, in the form of sweating, to keep cool. A high body temperature, also known as hyperthermia, can develop rapidly in extremely hot environments. Hot temperatures also can build up in small spaces with poor ventilation, such as attics and furnace rooms.
Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are two types of heat-related illness. Heat exhaustion generally develops when a person is working or exercising in hot weather and does not drink enough fluids to replace those lost.
If heat exhaustion is untreated, it can escalate to heat stroke, which is the most severe form of heat-related illness.
Symptoms of heat stress:
The symptoms depend on the heat-related illness, but may include:
- hot and dry skin
- rapid heart rate
- muscle cramps
- nausea and vomiting
- disorientation and confusion
- fainting or coma
- worsening of pre-existing medical conditions
Heat stroke occurs when the body fails to regulate its temperature and body temperature continues to rise, often to 103° F or higher. Even with immediate medical treatment, heat stroke can be life-threatening and cause serious long-term problems.
Other Types of Heat-Related Illness Include:
- Heat rash – Occurs when the sweat ducts to the skin become blocked or swell, causing discomfort and itching
- Heat cramps – Occur in muscles after exercise because sweating causes the body to lose water, salt and minerals
- Heat edema– Swelling in the legs and hands, which can occur when sitting or standing for a long time in a hot environment
- Heat tetany – Hyperventilation and heat stress usually caused by short periods of stress in a hot environment
- Heat syncope – Fainting due to low blood pressure when heat causes the blood vessels to expand and body fluids gravitate to the legs
Heat-related illness can be prevented by keeping the body cool and avoiding dehydration in hot environments. Home treatment is usually all that is needed to treat many heat-related illnesses, although heat exhaustion and heat stroke need immediate medical treatment.
Heat stress may affect older people more than others:
Seniors may be at increased risk of heat-related illnesses and need special care in hot weather. Risk factors include living alone, chronic medical problems and certain medications.
Factors that increase the risk of heat stress in elderly people include:
- Self-care problems – some older people are frail or have reduced mobility or mental illness. These factors make it difficult for the person to take adequate care in hot weather.
- Living alone – there is no one to take care of the person if the person ignores symptoms of heat illness.
- Physical changes – the ageing body doesn’t cope with sudden stresses as quickly as a younger body. On hot days, elderly skin is not able to produce sweat and cool the body as efficiently as younger skin.
- Chronic medical problems – older people are more likely to have chronic medical problems. Certain conditions make the body more vulnerable to heat stress.
- Medications – older people with chronic medical problems usually take medications on a regular basis. Some medications can hinder the body’s ability to regulate temperature.
Kidney conditions – if you take medications for kidney problems, you need to talk to your doctor before you increase the amount of fluid you drink
If your elderly loved one needs extra care this summer call Right at Home for options on how we can deliver the Right Care Right at Home.
Founded in 1995, Right at Home offers in-home companionship and personal care, and assistance to seniors and adults living with a disability who want to continue to live independently or age in their home. Right at Home is your local expert for issues related to caring for your loved ones, and is dedicated to keeping you informed about home care. With no admin or subscription fees Right at Home allows you to get more care from your package or budget.
Right at Home is a 'My Aged Care' government approved, home care provider for levels 1 – 4 and offers flexible in-home care services such as nursing care, after hospital care, post-operative care, respite care, dementia and Alzheimer's care. Right at Home also offers assistance with daily living such as grooming, hygiene, transport, shopping, meal prep, domestic services and social support, so your loved one can enjoy a more independent, vibrant life. Our nurses and caregivers are screened, highly trained and insured prior to entering your home so you can trust us with the caregiving while you focus on your loved one.
To find out more, please give us a call on 1300 363 802 or visit our website.