by Carol Higgins Taylor
Special to The Weekly
Humidity has settled in this season, making sticky the word of the day. Not that I’m complaining
after the winter we had, just saying I’m starting to “glow” more than I used to.
It’s time to be proactive about the heat. If you don’t have a cooling mechanism, think about
getting one as soon as you can. Currently, stores have a full supply and for under $200 you could be cool as a cucumber all summer.
The National Institute on Aging explains who is at risk for heat-related illness which can be
• Being dehydrated which is a common problem for seniors.
• Age-related changes to the skin such as impaired blood circulation and inefficient sweat glands.
• Heart, lung and kidney diseases, as well as any illness that causes general weakness or fever.
• High blood pressure or other conditions that require changes in diet. For example, people on salt-restricted diets may be at increased risk. However, salt pills should not be used without first consulting a doctor.
• Reduced sweating, caused by medications such as diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers and certain heart and blood pressure drugs.
• Taking several drugs for various conditions. It is important, however, to continue to take prescribed medication and discuss possible problems with a physician.
• Being substantially overweight or underweight.
• Drinking alcoholic beverages.
Heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke are not to be taken lightly. Heat
exhaustion, which occurs when the body gets too hot, has symptoms such as thirst, confusion, weakness, becoming uncoordinated and nausea.
If you experience any of these symptoms or you are with an older person who is, the following
treatments can provide some relief — showering, bathing or sponging off with cool water, drinking fluids and lying down to rest, preferably in a cool place. If you’re in the sun, find shelter immediately.
While heat exhaustion can be addressed with the above steps, heat stroke is another story. It can be fatal so immediate medical attention is crucial.
The list of possible symptoms includes, a body temperature of 105 degrees, headache, faintness, staggering, strong rapid pulse, dry flushed skin, lack of sweating and vomiting.
If you or someone else is exhibiting any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately.
The key is to prevent and reduce the risks that extreme heat can cause for seniors. It’s important
to talk to primary care providers about your individual risk factors, which might include some medications you may take.
As we age, our bodies’ ability to release heat by sweating is blunted, making it particularly
dangerous for seniors to stay in very warm environments for long periods of time.
If you have a fan and a squirt bottle, you’ve got a good way to stay cool. Sit in front of the fan
and lightly mist your legs and arms. As the water evaporates, your skin will cool down. You can also put a fan behind a bowl of ice and let the cool air waft over you.
Dress in layers. Older people may not feel the heat accurately and consequently put themselves at risk by wearing too much or inappropriate clothing. Wear breathable fabrics.
While drinking more liquids is vital in hot weather, check with your healthcare provider if
you have had limits put on your fluid intake or have been prescribed water pills.
Summer is short lived in Maine so enjoy it, but be cautious. And remember if it is warm leave
your dog at home. A car can turn deadly in just a few minutes, even with the windows down.
Carol Higgins Taylor is as an advocate for seniors and owns a public relations firm in Bangor. For information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.