By Diana Reynoso
Excessive heat has caused more deaths than all other weather events, including floods, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. A heat wave is a prolonged period of excessive heat, generally hitting 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 real problems, and there are several reasons for why elderly people are so vulnerable to heat.
Peoples’ 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 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.
Drink plenty of liquids. Dehydration is the root cause 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.
Wear appropriate clothes. When it’s hot out, wear light-colored, lightweight, loose-fitting clothes and a wide-brimmed hat.
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 cooler.
Know the warning signs of heat-related illness. Dizziness, nausea, headache, rapid heartbeat, chest pain, fainting and breathing problems are all signs to seek help immediately.
Seek air-conditioned environments. Seniors whose houses are not air-conditioned should consider finding an air-conditioned place to spend time during extreme heat. Seniors without convenient access to any air-conditioned place might consider a cool bath or shower.
If you are a city of Alexandria resident you might be eligible to receive a fan or air conditioner. To see if you qualify, contact the Division of Aging and Adult Services at 703-746-5999. To be eligible for this service, you must be 60 years of age or older, meet income guidelines and be an Alexandria resident.
The writer is an aging specialist with the Department of Community and Human Services’ Division of Aging and Adult Services.