Senior citizens, especially those with chronic medical conditions, should stay indoors, preferably with air conditioning, or at least a fan, on hot and humid summer days, warns the National Institute on Aging. The agency suggests specific actions seniors can take to avoid deadly hyperthermia. About 1,500 in the U.S., can be expected to die from heat-related problems this summer-mostly senior men. Hyperthermia is an abnormally high body temperature caused by a failure of the heat-regulating mechanisms in the body to deal with the heat coming from the environment. Heat stroke, heat syncope (sudden dizziness after prolonged exposure to the heat), heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat fatigue are common forms of hyperthermia.
Seniors and even younger people can be at increased risk for these conditions, depending on the combination of outside temperature, their general health and individual lifestyle. Living in housing without air conditioning, not drinking enough fluids, not understanding how to respond to the weather conditions, lack of mobility and access to transportation, overdressing and visiting overcrowded places are all lifestyle factors that can increase the risk for hyperthermia. People without air conditioners should go to places that do have air conditioning, such as senior centers, shopping malls, movie theaters and libraries. Cooling centers, which may be set up by local public health agencies, religious groups and social service organizations in many communities, are another option.
The highest yearly total of hypothermia related deaths (1,536) was in 2010 and the lowest
(1,058) in 2006. Approximately 67 percent of hypothermia related deaths were among males.
The risk for hyperthermia may increase from:
•Age related changes to the skins such as poor blood circulation and inefficient seat glands
•Being substantially overweight or underweight
•Heart, lung and kidney diseases, as well as any illness that causes general weakness or fever
•High blood pressure or other health 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 physician.
•Reduced perspiration, caused by medications such as diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers and certain heart and blood pressure drugs.
•Use of multiples medications. It is important, however, to continue to take prescribed medication and discuss possible problems with a physician.
If you suspect someone is suffering for a heat related illness, get the person out of the heat and into a shady, air-conditioned or other cool place. Urge the person to lie down and call 911.