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Beline Obeid

Summer's heat can be tough on seniors



August 02, 2012
With summer comes the desire in many folks, including senior citizens, to get out and enjoy warmer weather.

Seniors should get out and about. But health experts warn the warmer summer months can present special problems for us all as we get older. And those special problems can have dangerous, even deadly, consequences. Each year, exposure to high temperatures and humidity leads to hundreds of deaths across the country. Seniors comprise a large percentage of heat-related illnesses and death. The older we get, the more we need to be reminded of some simple health advice to protect us when the weather starts to warm up.

The first reminder is to drink more fluids.

The older you are, the more prone you are to dehydration, and the higher risk for fluid loss. The reason for this, is as we age, the more we begin to lose the sensation of thirst. Without the desire to drink regularly, we can become dehydrated easily. It is recommended for all to drink more water when the weather is warm and don't wait until we are thirsty.

Water is best for hydration since the body is based on water.

A beverage with caffeine in it can be counterproductive. Caffeine is a diuretic that if consumed in great quantities, can cause dehydration rather than quenching the thirst.

Seniors also need to be aware of their own particular health needs and health issues.

The amount of water each person needs to stay hydrated varies. For example, if a person has congestive heart failure, a disease that causes fluid to build up and cause congestion in the body, doctors may suggest limiting the intake of fluids because of the tendency of fluid to accumulate in the lungs and surround tissue. Talk to your physician about fluid intake.

Along with the right fluid intake, seniors should make certain they are eating a healthy diet.

Health experts recommend people skip hot, heavy meals and opt for cooler meals to keep the body temperature colder. In summer months, fruits and vegetables are at their best. And while indulging in those healthy fruits and vegetables, limit fat and salt intake that can increase chances of dehydration.

Should we stay indoors during this heat?

By all means, head outdoors when the weather warms, but be careful and mindful of some basic health tips.

Engage in physical activity such as walking or gardening. Exercise and being outside instills a good frame of mind.

Know your limitations.

The older we get, the more apt we are to fall, and the more dangerous these falls can become.

Staying sufficiently hydrated comes into play when outside and engaging in physical activity. When a person becomes dehydrated and the body temperature begins to change, one can experience confusion, falls and other preventable adverse effects. There is also the danger of heat stroke, the most serious heat-related illness.

Heat stroke occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature. It can cause seizures, confusion, difficulty breathing and increased pulse rate.

First the body temperature rises rapidly within 10 to 15 minutes, and because the body loses its ability to sweat, it becomes unable to regulate its temperature. If you are outside and feeling hot, and then stop feeling hot, that's not a good sign. Other signs are cramping, a rash on the skin, nausea and vomiting. If these symptoms occur, you should seek medical help immediately.

To avoid dehydration and heat stroke, move slowly, rushing in hot weather can cause the body temperature to rise more quickly. Slow down when it is warm and do plenty of relaxing.

Keep curtains and blinds drawn to reduce the amount of heat from the sun. Check the thermostat to find out the temperature. If you have an air conditioner or fan, turn it on to cool down the house if the temperature is above 85 degrees. Otherwise, seek a cooler location. Plan outdoor activities during cooler times. If you must spend time outdoors, do so early in the morning or in the evening.

Cool off by taking a cool shower, bath or sponge bath or eat an ice cream sundae.

Always dress appropriately for the weather. The skin of older adults is thinner, more fragile and more easily sunburned. Older adults must use sunscreen and wear hats when in the sun.

Know your limitations and don't over exert.

Terri Murphy is a Certified Senior Advisor and the owner of Home Helpers, a Non-Medical Home Care Business. She lives in Grosse Pointe. She can be reached by telephone at (313) 881-4600 or send e-mails to


comcast.net. Home Helpers website is


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