Bethesda, Md - The sunshine and warm weather that provide fun and recreation for many people during the summer months pose a special health risk for older Americans - a fact supported by the grim reality that the majority of people who die each summer from heat-related illnesses are age 65 or older.
As people age, they become less resistant to extremes in temperature and humidity. This is caused by two factors. One is the age-related decline of the body's ability to cope with excess heat. This is due, in part, to the fact that older people perspire less. Perspiration is the primary means of removing excess heat from the body.
Older people also have an increased risk of heat-related illnesses because they are more likely to have an underlying disease or take medications that interfere with the body's temperatureregulating mechanisms and compromise the body's ability to maintain proper balance of water and salt.
Because of these two factors, older people exposed to extremes of heat and humidity may build up body heat and become depleted of water and salt. which may lead to heat exhaustion, heat cramps, heat syncope, or heat stroke.
Heat stroke may be fatal unless the victim receives medical attention immediately. The treatment of heat stroke consists of rapidly lowering the body temperature under a doctor's supervision. While waiting for medical help to arrive, the victim should be moved to a cool place, his or her clothing should be removed, and the body should be cooled with sponge baths or wet towels.
Heat stress is prevented by following these common sense rules. The best precaution to avoid trouble is to remain indoors in a cool place. If the home is not air-conditioned, go to a library, movie theater, or store during the hottest hours of the day. Ways for the elderly to cool off include taking lukewarm or cool baths or showers and allowing the body to air dry, or placing ice bags or wet towels on the body. In addition:
* Stay out of direct sunlight and avoid strenuous activity.
* Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing that permits perspiration to evaporate. Wear a hat outdoors.
* Drink plenty of water or fruit or vegetable juices to replace fluids lost through perspiration. Avoid alcoholic beverages. Use salt tablets if your doctor recommends their use for you.
* If you live alone, have a relative or neighbor check in on you regularly. Do not ignore danger signs such as nausea, dizziness, fatigue, or fever.