Senior citizens at risk during dangerous heat

Published: Jul. 14, 2016 at 6:10 PM EDT
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Dangerous heat is here and it's unbearable for many of us.

But it's especially hard on older people who are more vulnerable to dehydration and heatstroke.

About 40 percent of heat related deaths in the U-S were people 65 and older according to the University of Chicago Medical Center.

Medical staff at Commonwealth Assisted Living in Radford say older people who are going to e outside need to drink a lot of water.

Also stay away from sodas and alcohol. They say the signs for heat related sicknesses can be subtle.

"Feeling a little bit dizzy, maybe an increased heart rate, feeling a little bit faint, little black spots running around in front of them, a very, very dry mouth. Some medications can cause that but this would be more prominent," said Birdie Herald, the resident care director at Commonwealth Assisted Living in Radford.

They also recommend staying indoors during the hottest part of the day and monitoring the heat index and humidity.

Commonwealth Assisted Living shared the following safety information about senior citizens working or enjoying the outdoors when it's hot.

1. Stay Hydrated: The single most important thing that seniors can do during warmer weather is to stay hydrated. Water and fruit juices that are low in sugar help to replenish the body of important vitamins and fluids that are lost during the perspiration process.

2. Wear Sunscreen and Eye Protection: The number of melanoma diagnoses in seniors has increased dramatically as adults ages 65+ continue to enjoy outdoor recreational activities. Our skin’s ability to attract T cells to damaged or burned areas diminishes over time which necessitates the need to protect it with plenty of sunscreen. Protecting the eyes is also crucial as they can be damaged by direct sunlight.

3. Protect Your Head with Wide-Brimmed Hats: One of the first areas where skin cancers develop are on the ears, neck, and the top of the head. As we age, the hair follicles begin to thin which removes the natural barrier to direct sunlight. Wearing wide-brimmed hats will protect all of these problem areas.

4. Appropriate Attire: Loose fitting clothing made out of natural fibers such as cotton allows the skin to breath and cool itself naturally. Synthetic or tight fitting clothing restricts that breathing process and can increase the body’s temperature.

5. Avoid Mid-Day Hours: The hours between 11:00am and 4:00pm are the times during which the sun is most intense. Older adults should avoid strenuous activities outside during this time period in order to minimize heatstroke or other heat related illnesses.

6. Monitor Heat Index: The heat index is the calculation of moisture or humidity in the air as it relates to the evaporation process caused by the sun. A high heat index can limit the body’s ability to perspire and cool itself. Monitoring both the temperature and the heat index will help protect seniors from heat exhaustion.

7. Low Intensity Exercise: Maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle is important for adults ages 65 and above but the summer months create challenges to exercising outdoors. Seniors should limit their exercise activities to air-conditioned spaces. If exercise is conducted outside, it should be a low intensity activity such as light gardening or walking near areas where they can quickly seek water and shelter if needed.

8. Apply Bug Spray: Mosquitos and ticks can carry a variety of diseases which are harder for the immune system to fight in older adults. Wearing bug spray can help protect seniors from unwanted illnesses.

9. Inform Neighbors, Friends, and Family: It may seem inconvenient, but seniors should inform neighbors, friends, and/or family members if they decide to undertake outdoor activities during the summer. Having someone check in on them will provide a safety net in case anything happens and will provide a certain level of comfort to loved ones.

10. Know the Signs: Seniors should know the signs of heatstroke which can take the form of muscle cramps, headaches, nausea, and dizziness. Experiencing any of these signs should alert seniors that they need to seek shelter in an air-conditioned environment and rehydrate.