Feeling the heat: helping Calgary seniors keep their cool
We don’t need to tell you that the end of June was really hot here in Calgary! According to Global News, no less than 49 temperature records were set across Alberta on June 30th alone, including a new record of 35.9 C here in Calgary. That smashed the previous record of 33.3 C set in – 1892.
That 1892 date shows that exceptionally high temperatures are nothing new, but are arguably becoming more frequent. So, if you aging parents or senior relatives were suffering in the high temperatures (as so many of us were), it may be time to sit down with them and explore ways to improve their homes or lifestyles for future temperatures.
Why seniors suffer in the heat
People over the age of 65 are much more prone to heat stress (feeling the heat) than younger people. This is because as we age, our bodies don’t adjust as quickly or as easily to sudden changes in temperature. Equally, we might have a medical condition, or be taking medications that affects our body’s reposes to heat and temperature regulation.
Seniors with addictions to alcohol are also at risk, as are those with heart problems, kidney disease, conditions treated with diuretic drugs or sedatives, and those who are either obese or very underweight.
Heat-related conditions to look out for
All heat-related conditions come under the category of hyperthermia. Extreme heat can trigger two potentially serious illnesses:
- Heat Stroke
- Heat Exhaustion
Heat stroke is the more serious, when the body loses its ability to regulate temperature. As a result:
- Body temperature rises quickly
- The person cannot sweat properly
- The body is unable to cool down
- Body temperature can rise to 106F or more within a few minutes
Symptoms of heat stroke include:
- High body temperature
- Dry skin (not sweating)
- Rapid pulse
- Throbbing headache
- Dizziness and/or fainting
- Changes in behaviour including; confusion, agitation, disorientation, bad temper, or acting out of character
Anyone with heat stroke must receive emergency treatment as soon as possible.
Heat exhaustion is severe tiredness resulting from sustained exposure to excessive heat. Heat exhaustion builds over time during high temperatures and often as a result of not hydrating properly. This is why seniors and the elderly are particularly vulnerable, as they often do not drink enough fluids.
Heat exhaustion symptoms include:
- Heavy Sweating
- Pale and moist skin
- Cramps in muscles
- Dizziness and weakness
- Fast, shallow breathing
When moved into the cool and been given a drink, seniors with heat exhaustion should being to feel better within 30 minutes. If symptoms persist for longer, call your physician for medical advice or seek assistance. Heat exhaustion can develop into heat stroke if not action is taken.
Three other hyperthermia conditions
Heat syncope is a sudden dizzy spell that happens if you active in the heat. Those taking beta blocker medications are more at risk. If you feel dizzy in the heat:
- Find a cool place to rest
- Put your legs up
- Drink cool water
Often caused by manual work or exercise, heat cramps cause painful muscle tensioning in your arms, legs and stomach. Again,
- Find a cool place to rest and cool down
- Drink plenty water
Heat edema causes your ankles and feet to swell in the heat. If your legs swell:
- Sit in a cool place
- Put your legs up
- Consult your physician if the swelling doesn’t reduce
How to help seniors avoid heat stress
If you can, visit your senior relatives twice a day during heatwaves, and as the CDC advises (5), ask yourself these questions:
- Are they drinking enough water?
- Do they have access to air conditioning?
- Do they know how to keep cool?
- Do they show any signs of heat stress?
Helping seniors stay cool at home
Seniors at home should keep out of the sun, and rest in a cool part of their home during the heat of the day. Help your senior relatives by identifying and improving access to that cool place.
If they have air conditioning, turn it on and say you’ll help with the utilities cost of running it! Some seniors may view air con as “expensive’ and might limit its use. Remind them that’s what it’s there for! If you can hire a portable air conditioning unit, or buy extra fans, these will also help.
Hose down any outside areas with water or set the sprinklers going as close to the house as possible. This helps keep the surrounding air mass cooler, so if they open the windows, they get a cooler breeze through their home. It doesn’t last for long, but it does help keep their home cooler during the day overall. (That’s why a lot of Middle Eastern gardens and Mediterranean villas have water features, to keep them cooler in the summer months.)
Encourage ageing relatives to drink cool (not cold) non-alcoholic drinks, and to drink as often as they can. Tea and coffee will heat them up and act as a diabetic, causing them to urinate more often and lose more fluids. If they need to limit their fluid intake on medical grounds, they should consult their physician to find out how much fluid they can drink when it’s hot.
Take a trip to an air-conditioned mall (now that restrictions are lifted) and perhaps pick out some new, lightweight clothing, stock up on sunscreen, or a smart new sunhat.
Remind them that doing some gardening or their usual round of golf can wait until it’s a bit cooler!
Not able to check on senior parents or relatives?
Our caregivers can! As part of our Calgary home care service, we can visit your relatives and check how they are coping with the heat. While we’re there, we can help with household chores such as laundry and light cleaning, opening or closing shades and curtains to keep out strong sunlight, or just sit and discuss the latest news and weather reports!
We can remind them to drink, to eat and take their medications, and ensure they have a jug of water at their side rather than having to go to the kitchen every time they want a drink.
As part of our personal care service, our friendly caregivers can help them wash, shower or bathe to help them feel cooler and more comfortable too.
Contact us to discuss your requirements even if the temperatures have dipped to around 28 degrees. For more vulnerable seniors, that can still be too hot for comfort.