By Diana Reynoso
In recent years, excessive heat has caused more deaths than all other weather events, including floods. A heat wave is a prolonged period of excessive heat, generally 10 degrees or more above average, often combined with excessive humidity.
Hot weather is dangerous, and seniors are particularly prone to its threat. Elderly heat stroke and heat exhaustion are a real problem. Older residents are vulnerable to heat for several reasons. A person’s ability to notice changes in their body temperature decreases with age. Many seniors also have underlying health conditions that make them less able to adapt to heat. Furthermore, many medicines that seniors take can contribute to dehydration.
Fortunately, a few simple precautions are all that is needed to keep safe. Below are a few tips to stay cool.
1. Drink plenty of liquids: Dehydration is the root of many heat-related health problems. Drink plenty of water or juice, even if you’re not thirsty. But remember to avoid alcoholic
or caffeinated drinks, as they can actually contribute to dehydration.
2. Wear appropriate clothes: When it’s hot outside, wear light-colored, lightweight, loose-fitting clothes and a wide-brimmed hat.
3. Stay indoors during midday hours: During periods of extreme heat, the best time to run errands or be outdoors is before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m., when the temperature tends to be lower.
4. Know the warning signs of heat-related illness: Dizziness, nausea, headache, rapid heartbeat, chest pain, fainting and breathing problems are all warning signs that one should seek help immediately.
5. Seek air-conditioned environments: Seniors whose houses aren’t air-conditioned should consider finding an air-conditioned place to spend time during extreme heat. The mall, library or movie theaters are all popular options. During heat waves, many cities also set up “cooling centers” — air-conditioned public places for seniors and other vulnerable residents. Seniors without convenient access to any air-conditioned place might consider taking a cool bath or shower.
If you are a senior and an Alexandria resident you might be eligible to receive a free fan to help you beat the heat. To see if you qualify please contact the Division of Aging and Adult Services at 703-746-5999.
The writer is the manager of the city’s FanCare program in the Division of Aging and Adult Services.