For many senior living communities, preparing for summer means ensuring that your emergency preparedness plan is up to date, but the greatest summertime risk for seniors doesn’t come from hurricanes, tornadoes, or other natural disasters. It comes from a source we all love and embrace – the sun. According to the AARP, more seniors die from heat-related deaths than from all of the natural disasters combined.
Why seniors? As we age, the body’s ability to adjust to dramatic changes in temperature diminishes. This, combined with other risk factors, such as obesity, high blood pressure and the use of certain medications, put seniors at greater risk for heat related illness or death. The greatest risks in heat-related illnesses are heart complications, which account for 60 percent of deaths. Fortunately, heat-related issues are almost entirely preventable. Here, a few pointers:
1. Schedule outdoor activities for the cooler times of the day, like the early morning or after dinner time. Keep midday activities indoors.
2. Ensure that your air-conditioning is functioning well, and keep common areas at a comfortably cool temperature. While fans can be useful, when temps reach the 90s, they will not prevent heat-related illness.
3. Offer drinks on a regular basis, and avoid caffeinated or alcoholic drinks, which can cause you to become dehydrated.
Even if you follow all of the precautions, a heat-related illness may occur, and the earlier you recognize the signs, the sooner you can begin to treat it. According to the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services, common signs of heat exhaustion include:
- Heavy sweating
- Muscle cramps
- Tiredness and weakness
- Dizziness or fainting
- Nausea or vomiting
If you spot these symptoms, immediately move the resident to an air-conditioned area, apply cool compresses, loosen clothing and offer plenty of fluids. If symptoms persist, call a health care provider.
Consider conducting a heat health awareness program in your community to educate staff and residents alike on the potential hazards of heat. A combination of caution and knowledge may be all your community needs to keep heat-related illness at bay.