As the mercury rises higher and the sun makes it summer home in the sky, some older adults may be feeling the heat in an unhealthy way. Heat stress and heat stroke are more likely to develop in older adults than younger ones. Some of the reasons for this include:
- As one grows older, their body cannot adjust to sudden changes in temperatures as well as before.
- Certain chronic illnesses that may develop with age changes normal body responses to heat
- Certain prescription medications hinder the ability to produce sweat and regulate body temperature.
Types of Heat-related Illnesses
The most serious type of heat illness is a result of body heat overload. Signs of heat stroke may include a core body temperature of more than 40°C/104°F, complete or partial loss of consciousness and/or reduced mental ability.15 Sweating is not a good indicator, as there are two types of heat stroke:
- Classic - accompanied by little or no sweating, usually occurring in children, those who are chronically ill and older adults.
- Exertional - accompanied by an increase in body temperature because of strenuous exercise or occupational exposure in combination with environmental heat, and where sweating is usually present.
Caused by excessive loss of water and salt. Symptoms may include heavy sweating, weakness, dizziness, nausea, headache, diarrhea and muscle cramps.
Heat fainting (parade syncope)
Caused by the loss of body fluids through sweating and by lowered blood pressure due to pooling of blood in the legs. Symptoms include temporary dizziness and fainting resulting from an insufficient flow of blood to the brain while a person is standing.
Caused by a salt imbalance resulting from a failure to replace salt lost through excessive sweating. Symptoms are sharp muscle pains.
Heat rash (miliaria rubra)
A result of inflammation of clogged sweat glands and accompanied by tiny red spots on the skin, which may give a prickling sensation.
Heat-induced swelling frequently noticeable in the ankles, feet, and hands, and most often seen in people who are not regularly exposed to heat.
Source: Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, 2005.
How you can protect yourself
If the weather is calling for a scorcher of a day, here are some steps that you can take to help protect yourself from heat-related illnesses.
- Wear lightweight, light coloured clothing
- Stake a cool shower or bath
- Drink cool, nonalcoholic beverages such as water or juice
- Remain indoors in the heat of the day ( between 2-4pm)
- Seek and an air-conditioned environment. On heat alert days the City of Toronto implements Cooling Centres to help people stay cool if they don’t have access to an air-conditioned environment.
- Do not take part in strenuous activities
If you think that you or someone else if having a heat related emergency, call 911, move the person to a cooler spot (air conditioned environment or a shady spot if you are outside) and try to cool the person down.
With a little extra planning, everyone can enjoy this summer to the fullest.