Outdoor Hazards and the Elderly

We should always be on the lookout for hazards when spending a lot of time outdoors, especially with warmer weather just around the corner. Though there are many, one of the deadliest outdoor hazards to the elderly (or anyone in general) in warmer weather is heat stroke.

Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness, and can occur when the body becomes unable to control its temperature. As the body’s temperature rises, it loses the ability to sweat, and it is therefore unable to cool down properly. Body temperatures can raise to 106 degrees Fahrenheit within 10 to 15 minutes, and death or permanent disability can occur if proper emergency treatment is not provided quickly.

Now, let’s look at some signs and symptoms of heat stroke. Warning signs can include the following:

  • An extremely high temperature (above 103 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Red, hot, and dry skin (with no sweating)
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea

Heat Exhaustion

This is a milder form of heat-related illness that can manifest after many days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids. Warning signs for heat stroke can vary, but may include the following:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Paleness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fainting
  • Skin: might be cool and moist
  • Pulse rate: fast and weak
  • Breathing: fast and shallow

If you know of an older adult relative or neighbor, there are some things you can do to check on them and make sure that they are safe:

  • Visit older adults at risk at least twice during the day and look out for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
  • Encourage them to intake more fluids by drinking cool, non-alcoholic beverages, no matter the level of their activity. However, if the doctor normally limits the amount of fluid they drink or they are on water pills, they’ll need to ask their doctor how much they should drink in hot weather.
  • Take them to air-conditioned locations if they have issues with transportation.

If you witness any signs of severe heat stress, you could be dealing with a life-threatening emergency. Have someone call for medical help at once while you attend to the affected individual. Here are some things you should do:

  • Get the person to a shady area.
  • Cool the person quickly, by using whatever methods you can. For instance, immerse them in a tub of cool water; put them in a cool shower; spray them with cool water from a hose, or if humidity is low, wrap them in a cool, wet sheet and fan the person vigorously.
  • Monitor body temperature and continue cooling efforts until temperature drops to 101-102 degrees.
  • If EMS is delayed, call the hospital emergency room for more instructions
  • Do not give the person alcohol to drink.
  • Get medical help ASAP.