Co-blogger: Tamala Jones, BSW, LNHA, Risk Manager
Summer is officially here and the country is baking in a sweltering heat wave. It is very important that we keep our residents and employees safe during these extreme conditions. The information below will assist your team in preventing heat related conditions by being alert to symptoms and reacting timely. Prevention is the key to decreasing risk.
Why are elderly residents at increased risk in extreme heat?
Many residents have poor circulation, inefficient sweat glands and changes in the skin as a result of the normal aging process. These changes may decrease their ability to adjust to heat. Often residents are taking medications such as diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers and heart and blood pressure drugs that may also decrease the body’s ability to cool itself through perspiration. Medications should not be withheld without an order from the attending physician, however close monitoring should be ongoing.
Due to the conditions mentioned above, the senior population is at a higher risk for “hyperthermia”, a heat-related illness. There are many levels of heat-related illness:
Heat stress: Occurs when a strain is placed on the body as a result of hot weather.
Heat fatigue: A feeling of weakness brought on by high outdoor temperatures.
Heat syncope: Sudden dizziness after activity in the heat
Heat cramps: Painful muscle spasms in the abdomen, arms or legs after strenuous activity due to the lack of sodium in the body. Residents on sodium restricted diets may be at increased risk.
Heat exhaustion: A warning that the body is getting too hot and is often caused by the body’s loss of water and sodium. May cause confusion, weakness, nausea and increased sweating.
Heat stroke: A life-threatening condition; body temperature rises above 104 degrees. Symptoms may include confusion, bizarre behavior, fainting, staggering, strong, rapid pulse, dry, flushed skin, lack of sweating, possible delirium or coma. Heatstroke can permanently damage vital organs. Call 911 immediately in the event someone is exhibiting these symptoms.
What can we do to protect our residents and employees?
· Avoid very cold drinks as they can cause stomach cramps.
· Avoid liquids containing caffeine, alcohol or large amounts of sugar, as they may cause a loss of body fluid.
· Increase fluids regardless of activity level. Don’t wait for residents to tell you they are thirsty HYDRATE, HYDRATE, HYDRATE! Remember, residents may not experience the sensation of thirst.
· Consider initiating a “hydration cart” with fluids and popsicles.
· Avoid overdressing or wearing the wrong fabrics for hot weather.
· Decrease exercise and limit outdoor activity.
· Employees and or residents who may need to go outside should protect themselves by wearing a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher. Look for products with “broad spectrum” or UVA/UVB protection on the label.
· Provide frequent rest periods with fluids for staff members.
· Keep blinds closed on sunny sides of the building.
· Offer light, frequent snacks throughout the day versus a large, heavy meal.
Remember to continually monitor residents for signs and symptoms. Stay cool and if you should need assistance please feel free to contact your HealthCap risk manager! Happy summer!
About the co-author:
Ms. Jones has over 20 years of operational experience at the facility and regional level in the following areas: skilled nursing care, rehabilitation, assisted living and continuing care retirement communities. She is a published author and national speaker in her areas of expertise.