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Heat Exhaustion in the Elderly

Article by Daniel Westhead Daniel Westhead Sure Safe Alarms

It’s a well-known fact that older people’s bodies struggle more to cope with extremes of temperature, whether that’s high heat or intense cold. In general, an elderly person’s body often has difficulty shrugging off shocks that younger people’s bodies can bounce back from far more easily.

In the past, we’ve talked about the dangers of cold room temperatures for older people. But high temperatures can also present a serious danger to the elderly. One problem is that older people may not be as able to sense that their body is too hot. That issue is especially concerning in older people with dementia, who easily become dehydrated and can be unaware of their own wellbeing.

Even when older people are aware that they are becoming overheated, their bodies may not respond as effectively to help cool them down. They might sweat less, and medications and long-term health conditions can also decrease the body’s capacity to adapt to heat.

That’s why it’s crucial to be able to spot the signs of overheating in the elderly and respond quickly. In this post, we’ll discuss how to identify and handle heat exhaustion, as well as how to help avoid it before it occurs.

Heat exhaustion versus heatstroke

It’s never pleasant to feel too warm on a hot day. But when your body starts to actually become ill from overheating, this is a medical condition called heat exhaustion.

Be sure to remember that heat exhaustion is not the same thing as heatstroke. Heatstroke is a more severe version of heat illness, and it’s a medical emergency, so you should call 999 if you see its symptoms. According to the NHS, those symptoms include:

  • Fainting, seizures or confusion.
  • A fast pulse, fast breathing or difficulty breathing.
  • A very high body temperature without sweating.
  • Continued illness after half an hour of treatment for overheating.

You can help prevent heat exhaustion from turning into heatstroke by noticing and treating heat exhaustion early. Read on to learn how.

Signs of heat exhaustion in the elderly

It’s easy for seniors to start suffering heat exhaustion without realising it.

If you’re an older person or if you have older loved ones, keep an eye out during hot weather for symptoms including:

  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Intense thirst or sweating
  • Weariness, weakness or dizziness
  • Clammy skin or, in those with lighter skin colours, becoming paler than usual
  • Cramps in limbs or the stomach
  • A rapid pulse

Of course, high body temperature is also considered a symptom. But if a person’s body temperature is above 40° Celsius, that’s often considered to be heatstroke rather than heat exhaustion.

How to treat heat exhaustion in the elderly

Once you notice heat exhaustion, it’s essential to act quickly to treat it.

Your two main focuses should be:

  • Helping the older person get cooler
  • Giving them fluids like water

Your first two steps should be:

  1. Moving the older person to a cooler area
  2. Taking off any clothing that’s not needed

Once you’ve taken these steps to start cooling the elderly person down, you should give them cool water or a sports drink with electrolytes.

The fourth step is to help them cool down in other ways. You can try:

  • Using a fan
  • Putting cloth-wrapped cold packs on their body
  • Give them a cool, damp cloth to put on their body
  • Give them a spray bottle with cool water to spray their skin

The NHS says that if someone has heat exhaustion and you’re not sure what to do, you should call 111.

12 tips for older people during a heatwave

Of course, it’s best if an older person never gets so overheated that they experience heat exhaustion. Here, we list a few steps that can help seniors ward off heat exhaustion on hot days.

  1. Stay hydrated and drink cool drinks. Remember that dehydration is a serious issue for the elderly, especially for seniors with dementia, who may not experience thirst.
  2. Be aware of how long-term medical conditions and medications can affect you or your older loved one’s ability to handle heat.
  3. Stay in cool areas as much as possible. Don’t go out into the sun during the middle of the day, when temperatures outdoors are highest.
  4. When you are outside, wear a hat and sunscreen.
  5. Don’t do hard physical activity, especially during the hottest part of the day.
  6. Close windows and curtains during the hottest part of the day, then open them at night when it’s coolest.
  7. Wear appropriate clothing that’s loose and cool.
  8. Don’t create extra heat in your home, by cooking, for example.
  9. Don’t drink hot drinks, caffeine or alcohol.
  10. Be especially cautious at the start of the summer, when your “hot day routine” might not be in place yet.
  11. Take note of the weather forecast so that you can plan ahead to be in a cool place on especially hot days.
  12. Stay in touch with others. If you’re an elderly person, arrange to have family or friends check in on you. If you have an older loved one, check in on them.

Lastly, remember that heat exhaustion can turn into heatstroke. When an older person isn’t feeling better after thirty minutes of treatment for heat exhaustion, that’s one of the symptoms of heatstroke, which is a medical emergency.

How SureSafe alarms provide protection during hot weather

At SureSafe, we know that even the best preparations can’t always ward off emergencies like heat exhaustion. That’s why you want to put a system in place so that an older person can call for help if heat exhaustion strikes.

One of the problems with heat exhaustion is that its symptoms can make it harder for an older person to get help. A senior might feel tired, weak or dizzy during heat exhaustion. Of course, that means getting to and dialling a phone can become very difficult.

An elderly personal alarm with a one-touch alarm button offers security if this happens. Since personal alarms are worn on the wrist or as a pendant, they’re always on hand. And touching just one button to call for help is much easier than dealing with a phone.

What’s more, if an older person has heatstroke and passes out, personal alarms can help with this too. An automatic fall detection function allows the alarm to know when its wearer has fallen to the ground. It then calls for help even if the wearer isn’t conscious and can’t use the alarm at all.

Lastly, many personal alarms are showerproof, meaning there’s no worry about taking it off if an older person is quickly stepping into the shower to cool down.

With all these functions available in SureSafe alarms, it’s easy to see why tens of thousands of seniors have chosen to rely on SureSafe since 2015. What’s more, our five-star rating on Trustpilot is a testament to the quality of our affordable, easy-to-use alarms.

If you’re preparing for summer heat, why not give us a call at 0808 189 1671 to talk to us about an alarm that might suit you? Alternatively, you can get in touch with our expert team through our live chat, or just request a call back.

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