Summer Safety Tips for Older Adults
Weather in southwestern Ohio can be all over the map, especially during the spring and summer months. It will be hot and humid one day, cool and rainy the next. Even with a degree of unpredictability, it`s almost certain that we will see high temperatures climb into the upper 90s and even top 100 degrees. When temperatures remain high for several days in a row, health and weather experts recommend that children, people with respiratory problems and the elderly stay indoors if possible.
Why are older adults susceptible to heat-related illness and injury?
During hot summer months, everyone should take care to protect themselves from heat-related illnesses and injuries. During this time, our elderly loved-ones, friends and neighbors (people age 65 and older) are more susceptible to heat-related illnesses and injuries, because:
- Elderly people do not adjust as well as young people to sudden changes in temperature.
- They are more likely to have a chronic medical condition that upsets normal body responses to heat.
- They are more likely to take prescription medicines that impair the body`s ability to regulate its temperature or that inhibit perspiration.
Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature: the body`s temperature rises rapidly, the body loses its ability to sweat, and it is unable to cool down. Body temperatures rise to 106F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.
Warning signs vary but may include the following:
- An extremely high body temperature (above 103F)
- Red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating)
- Rapid, strong pulse
- Throbbing headache
Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids.
Warning signs vary but may include the following:
- Heavy sweating
- Muscle Cramps
- Nausea or vomiting
- Skin: may be cool and moist
- Pulse rate: fast and weak
- Breathing: fast and shallow
What you can do for elderly friends and neighbors
If you have elderly relatives or neighbors, you can help them protect themselves from heat-related stress:
- Visit older adults at risk at least twice a day and watch them for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
- If they have air conditioning, make sure they use it, at least during the heat emergency. If not, take them to an air-conditioned location if they lack transportation or make sure they are using fans and keeping windows open. If they insist on keeping windows shut for safety reasons, you may need to move them to another location during the heat emergency. Click here for a list of Cooling Centers in COA`s Resource Directory
- If the person`s doctor normally limits fluids or has a patient on diuretics, check with the doctor`s office about fluid intake during very hot weather. Otherwise, make sure they are drinking enough water.
If you see any signs of severe heat stress, you may be dealing with a life-threatening emergency. Have someone call for immediate medical assistance while you begin cooling the affected person. Do the following:
- Get the person to a shady area.
- Cool the person rapidly, using whatever methods you can. For example, immerse the person in a tub of cool water; place the person in a cool shower; spray the person with cool water from a garden hose; sponge the person with cool water; or if the humidity is low, wrap the person in a cool, wet sheet and fan him or her vigorously.
- Monitor body temperature and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101F
- If emergency medical personnel are delayed, call the hospital emergency room for further instructions.
- Do not give the person alcohol to drink.
- Get medical assistance as soon as possible.
(Content Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Extreme Heat)
What you can do to protect yourself
You can follow these prevention tips to protect yourself from heat-related stress:
- Drink cool, nonalcoholic beverages. (If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask him how much you should drink when the weather is hot. Also, avoid extremely cold liquids because they can cause cramps.)
- Take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath.
- If possible, seek an air-conditioned environment. (If you don`t have air conditioning, consider visiting an air-conditioned shopping mall or public library to cool off.)
- Visit a local cooling center, list of Cooling Centers in COA`s Resource Directory
- Wear lightweight clothing.
- If possible, remain indoors in the heat of the day.
- Do not engage in strenuous activities.
Help with summer cooling costs
For low-income older adults and people with disabilities or chronic health conditions, staying cool and comfortable during the summer months can have a significant impact on their health and well-being.
Help is available through Ohio's HEAP Summer Crisis Program (SCP). HEAP - the Home Energy Assistance Program - is a federally funded program designed to assist eligible Ohio residents with their utility bills.
HEAP's Summer Crisis Program provides a one-time payment for electric utility service and/or free air conditioners and/or fans to income-eligible households throughout Ohio. Applications for assistance through SCP are accepted July 1 through August 31.
Eligible individuals must apply through their local Community Action Agency. The application period is July 1 through August 31.
Call (513) 721-1025 for more information.