Today’s headlines are riddled with stories of extreme temperatures and heat-related fatalities, and due to climate change, extreme weather such as excessive heat will only intensify. High temperatures can have a grave impact on the human body, especially the bodies of the elderly. The CDC reports that most heat-related deaths occur between the ages of 55 and 74.
The senior population is more vulnerable and susceptible to heat related illnesses and death. Their bodies are unable to adjust and regulate to high temperatures the way younger people can, due to their age, medications, comorbidities, and chronic illness. Even healthy older adults struggle to maintain automatic thermoregulatory responses, which enable the body to cool down. These responses such as shivering, skin blood flow, and sweating become even more disabled with chronic illness such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
It’s important to ensure older residents and patients remain cool and hydrated in the hot summer months, and to recognize when a senior person is in heat-related distress. Signs and symptoms of heat-related illness include:
- Heat edema, swelling of the ankles and legs
- Heat Cramps
- Excessive sweating, or clammy skin
- Rapid pulse
- Excessive thirst
- High body temperature that could signal heat stroke or exhaustion
- Heat rash
- Sun burn
Care givers can work together to assist their residents to prevent negative outcomes by ensuring they remain hydrated (especially residents who suffer from dementia, as they may not realize they need to drink), remain in temperature-controlled locations, don light and loose-fitting clothing, get ample rest, and stay out of the sun.
Beyond observable safeguards, nursing homes and senior living facilities are required to have alternate energy sources in case of severe weather, such as a generator. A generator will ensure air conditioners continue to operate in the event of a power outage. It is also vital that facilities have a policy and procedure in place for heat-related emergencies and advisories. HealthCap offers the unrestricted use of a Heat Wave Advisory policy and procedure, intended to assist facilities in meeting its responsibility to provide a comfortable environment for residents, employees, and visitors. Let’s all be careful when it’s hot out there.
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