Heat Stroke: Know the Warning Signs

Heat Stroke: Know the Warning Signs

A serious risk for seniors during the hot summer months is heat stroke, and it’s especially hazardous for elderly adults because of the natural changes that happen as the body ages. Family members and seniors must know the warning signs when a loved one is experiencing a heat stroke and what they can do to mitigate it.

A heat stroke is a condition called hyperthermia that is the body’s inability to regulate its temperature due to several factors. What happens in hyperthermia, the body absorbs more heat than it can dispel. The opposite condition occurs in the winter months, hypothermia. Other terms for hyperthermia are heat fatigue, heat stroke, and heat exhaustion.

Out of all the hyperthermia conditions, heat stroke is the most severe because it must receive medical treatment immediately. If the body temperature reaches 105 degrees Fahrenheit, there’s high risk of brain and other organ damages. If delayed, then heat stroke can lead to fainting and collapse, and even death.The Centers for Disease Control contributes several factors to older adults vulnerability to heat strokes. They claim that an older body has more difficulty regulating and adjusting its temperature than younger people. Other reasons that play havoc on the body’s temperature:

  • Chronic disease that changes the body’s response to heat
  • Medications that weaken the body's ability to regulate its temperature

It’s important for family members and friends of older adults to recognize the warning signs of heat stroke. If an elderly person collapses during a heat stroke, they’re at high risk of breaking bones or a head injury that will have terrific consequences. Seek medical attention immediately if you notice one of the following signs of heat stroke or exhaustion.

Signs of a Heat Stroke

  • A high body temperature above 103°F
  • Red, hot, and dry skin
  • Rapidly beating pulse
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea

Signs of Heat Exhaustion

  • Substantial sweating
  • Pale colored skin
  • Muscle cramps
  • Fatigue
  • Faintness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Cold and wet skin
  • Fast and weakened pulse

If one of these warning signs occurs, get out of the heat immediately and take steps that will cool them down. Go into an air-conditioned room or car and give them water to drink. It’s best if they can rest and change into cooler clothing. Do not hesitate to visit a medical professional.

Steps to Prevent a Heat Stroke

Before going outside for an extended period:

  • Find out if your loved one is taking a beta blocker or a diuretic that can contribute to dehydration?
  • Is the older person overweight?
  • They should avoid drinking alcohol if exposed to heat.

During a hot season follow these steps:

  • Make sure the older adult’s home is well-ventilated
  • Install air conditioners in windows or central air throughout the home
  • Encourage them to drink lots of water
  • Get plenty of rest and avoid strenuous activity on humid days
  • Pay attention to the heat index
  • Dress in loose-fitting clothes

Take the right steps to avoid heat stroke and before going to an outdoor event, know the warning signs. If you observe one, seek medical attention immediately.

Carol Marak is a contributor for the senior living and healthcare market.

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