If there's an elderly person in your life, you must take extra precautions to ensure his or her well-being during hot weather.
Older people are more likely to become overheated and dehydrated, says Lila Sherlock, a geriatric clinical specialist at Greenwich Hospital in Connecticut. There are several reasons for this.
"The older a person is, the less body water they have, a lower muscle-to-fat ratio," Sherlock says. "If there is less body water to start with, they can dehydrate easier."
Also, many seniors take medications that can dehydrate them.
"The obvious one is diuretics," says Sherlock. "Some meds can affect the body's ability to control temperature."
And, finally, some elderly people just don't feel the heat.
"Older people may have a harder time in extremes of weather because they may not be as sensitized to changes in temperature as younger people," says Dr. Barney S. Spivack, director of geriatric medicine at Stamford Hospital in Connecticut. "They may not acclimate the same way."
They also might not feel thirsty, "so they don't drink enough fluids even though their body needs water," Sherlock says. "They don't feel that level of thirst that you or I would feel.
"And many don't want to drink because they're afraid they'll have to go to the bathroom and they won't be able to get there."
Even if they have an air conditioner, the lack of sensitivity to the heat can lead many seniors to leave it off.
"In this hot, humid weather, one thing I say to older people is if you have an air conditioner, please use it," says Sherlock. "Put it on low. You don't have to make the place sub-zero, but use it to keep the humidity low, which can help with breathing."
Summer can be a time of disruption for elderly people who are used to a routine.
"Any time a caregiver is away, there are a number of things to remember: shopping, meal preparation, medication supervision, getting the person to and from appointments, turning on the air conditioner, and just looking at the person on a regular basis to make sure they are OK," says Sherlock.
"The tendency is that most caregivers don't take a vacation. They stay home."
Taking elderly relatives along on vacation can also be difficult if they struggle with health issues.
"Traveling can be quite to disruptive to their routine, if it's an unfamiliar place and the schedule is different," she says. "You have to be aware of that."
And the family's schedule changes can affect older people, too. Seniors who live with their children might have grandchildren around all day in the summer.
"Most of the time it's a joy to have them around," Sherlock says, "but for a frail older person, you have to be aware of their baby-sitting skills."
The Stamford (Conn.) Advocate is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.
Health in the heat
Geriatric experts offer these tips to keep elderly people healthy in hot weather:
Drink plenty of water.
Avoid alcohol, which can dehydrate and react adversely with medications.
Avoid overexertion. Exercise and run errands in the early morning.
If outdoors, use plenty of sunscreen and wear a hat and sunglasses.
If you have an air conditioner, use it. Otherwise, use a fan to keep the room cool.
Stay in touch with family and friends.
If a caregiver is going on vacation, make sure there are arrangements for meals, medications and doctor's appointments.
Get help if you feel unusually weak, dizzy or confused.
- The Stamford Advocate