By Diana Reynoso
Excessive heat has caused more deaths than any other weather events. 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.
There are several reasons for elderly heat vulnerability that can lead to heat stroke and heat exhaustion. People’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. Additionally, some medicines that seniors take can contribute to dehydration.
Fortunately, a few simple precautions are all that’s needed to keep safe. Below are a few tips to stay cool:
Dehydration is the root of many heat-related health problems. Drink plenty of water or juice, even if you’re not thirsty. Remember to avoid alcoholic or caffeinated drinks as they can actually contribute to dehydration.
When it’s hot out, wear light-colored, lightweight and loose-fitting clothes. Add a wide-brimmed hat for extra protection from the sun.
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. Try to stay indoors during mid- day hours.
Know the signs
Dizziness, nausea, headache, rapid heartbeat, chest pain, fainting and breathing problems are all warning signs that help should be sought immediately. Be aware of the signs of heat-related illnesses and seek medical attention if necessary.
Seniors whose houses aren’t 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 through the Senior Cool Care Program. The program ends October 31 and is sponsored by Dominion Energy and the City of Alexandria. To see if you qualify, please contact the Division of Aging and Adult Services at 703-746-5999.
The writer is an aging specialist with the Alexandria Department of Community and Human Services Division of Aging and Adult Services.