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Weekly Tips & Insights

Preventing Hyperthermia in Seniors

Updated: Jan 19, 2022

If you haven’t noticed, it’s hot outside, and with the increased heat comes an increased need for safety precautions to stay cool and healthy. During the summer, many people experience what’s called hyperthermia, which simply means that you’re overheated. Here are some definitions and tips associated with hyperthermia that can help boost your awareness of its symptoms and how to combat them.

Levels of hyperthermia

Hyperthermia occurs in levels, starting with heat stress and ending with heat stroke.

Heat stress is when your body temperature starts to climb and you can’t cool yourself off enough through sweating. It’s easy to recover from and can be addressed by getting to an air-conditioned place, drinking lots of water or dumping cold water over your head.

Next comes heat fatigue, which is where you ignore heat stress for too long and begin to feel tired, unable to concentrate and uncoordinated. You can also get muscle cramps because of a deficiency in body salts from sweating too much. Here, you should do the same things as when you’re experiencing heat stress.

Heat exhaustion is when the symptoms of heat fatigue become so intense that you’re about to collapse. You’ve lost a lot of body fluid through sweating, your pulse goes up and your skin feels cool and clammy as your blood vessels contract to try and preserve body fluids by pulling them away from the skin.

Last comes a heat stroke, which can be fatal. Your body temperature can get all the way up to 104 degrees, which is extremely dangerous for your organs. Prior to passing out, you’ll be irritable, confused and experiencing all the aforementioned symptoms of earlier stages of hyperthermia.

It’s important that you recognize hyperthermia early on to avoid developing worsening symptoms. Once somebody collapses from a heat stroke, they will need to get to the ER to be cooled down manually by IV fluids or an ice bath.

Preventing hyperthermia in seniors

Seniors are most at risk for hyperthermia as they don’t have as much sensitivity to heat as younger populations. They often feel cold and don’t recognize when they aren’t drinking enough, aren’t ventilating enough or are taking medications that predispose them to dehydration, specifically diuretics, or “water pills,” which increase the amount of water and salt expelled from the body.

As already mentioned, seniors need to stay hydrated and get to cool environments when they feel overheated. If you don’t have access to your own air-conditioned space, get to a library, mall or other public space where you can walk around and cool down. Another tip is to put ice packs under your arms or on your groin as lots of blood flows there.

Health conditions and hyperthermia

Hyperthermia can be especially dangerous for people with lung disease. If it’s hot, it’s more difficult for them to breathe, which can become fatal. Heart failure can be an issue if you’re on a diuretic as your fluid balance is already tenuous, and sweating will exacerbate that. Diabetes is another risk factor as high blood sugar can make you get dehydrated more quickly if you’re urinating more frequently.

Though VNA can’t help directly with hyperthermia, they can assist in many indirect ways such as referring patients to resources that can help them pay utilities to access air-conditioning and sending people to check on seniors when it’s hot outside and they’re living alone to make sure they’re staying safe and have access to cool spaces.

Click here to learn more health and wellness tips to stay healthy this summer.

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