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Staying Safe During a Heat Wave

Monday, August 24, 2015

The summer months are drawing to a close, but the heat is still lingering in many places throughout the country. Arizona is no exception. Triple digits in the Sonoran Desert may be the norm for several more weeks. Keeping hydrated and in a cool place is critical in such extreme weather. Still, many senior citizens fall victim to heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses.
Data reveals that more people die in heat waves than any other natural disaster. In 2003, parts of Europe scorched in a heat wave that killed more than 70,000 people.  Most of these victims were older adults living alone in old, poorly ventilated buildings. 
Those at risk for serious injury and even death during very hot temperatures are older adults ages 65 and older who live alone and do not have home air conditioning. They may be limited in their mobility, suffer from dementia or chronic medical problems such as heart and lung disease, diabetes and obesity. While many elderly individuals may complain about being “cold,” the dangerous effects of extreme heat can hit them before they even realize it.
In fact, many common medications can impair an older adult’s ability to respond to hot weather conditions.  Medications such as:

  • Diuretics or “water pills” are taken along with high blood pressure medications or for congestive heart failure.
  • Some gastro-intestinal medications, known as anticholinergic agents
  • Some medications taken for neurological or mental disorders or neuroleptic medications
For these and all medications, check with your doctor or pharmacist about overexposure to the sun and how your medication may contribute to dehydration.
Symptoms to look for include thirst, muscle, joint pains and cramps, headaches and fatigue.  Many seniors display some of these symptoms because of other disease processes, but do not dismiss these symptoms readily.  Play close attention to when these symptoms started and fluid intake.
Here are a few steps you can follow to make sure your loved ones are safe during this season:   
  1. Seniors without air conditioners at home should go to places kept cool with air conditioning on very hot days, such as community centers, senior centers or libraries. Do not rely on just fans.
  2. Family members, friends and community groups should frequently check in on older adults, especially those living alone. Make sure they are staying in a cool place and are well hydrated.
  3. Older adults or their caregivers should stay in contact with their primary care providers in case there are other precautions they must be aware of during heat waves.
Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more tips on how to stay safe during a heat wave.