Preventing Heat-related Illnesses
What seniors and caregivers need to know to stay safe this summer
Heat stroke, heat exhaustion and other heat-related illnesses can affect anyone, but did you know that certain people, including seniors, are particularly vulnerable? As the weather warms up, it’s a good time to refresh your knowledge about the signs of heat stroke and other emergencies, what to do if they strike, and prevention tips to keep yourself and others safe and healthy.
Who’s at risk?
In hot, humid weather, certain people are at higher risk of illness caused by excessive heat and/or dehydration: babies and young children, seniors, people with chronic illnesses (such as heart disease, diabetes and respiratory illnesses), people with mental illnesses, people who take certain medications (such as drugs for high blood pressure, insomnia and depression) and people who have limited mobility.
What to watch for
These are the signs and symptoms of heat-related emergencies, according to the Canadian Red Cross:
Cramps or muscle tightening, usually in the legs and abdomen, but also possible in other parts of the body
- Dizziness, weakness and feeling faint
- Skin that is redder or paler than usual, or moist skin
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Irritable, bizarre or aggressive behaviour
Types of heat-related illnesses
People often use the term “heat stroke” to describe heat-related illness, but there are different types. Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care describes four conditions and their symptoms:
- Heat cramps: painful muscle cramps, usually in the legs or abdomen
- Heat edema: swelling of hands, feet and ankles
- Heat exhaustion: heavy sweating, weakness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, fainting
- Heat stroke: headache, dizziness, confusion or other altered mental state and fainting; skin may be hot and dry, or the person may sweat due to high body temperature; this is a potentially fatal medical emergency
What to do if you suspect heat-related illness
If you notice signs or symptoms of heat-related illnesses, move to a cooler location right away. Sip cool water and loosen any tight clothing. Apply cool water to your skin and fan yourself. Seek medical help. If you notice someone who appears confused, is unconscious or has stopped sweating, call emergency services (9-1-1).
How to prevent heat-related illnesses
Stay cool and safe this summer with these expert tips:
- Stay hydrated. This is important year-round, but especially in the summer. St. John Ambulance recommends aiming for at least 12 cups of water daily. The Canadian Red Cross advises drinking fluids regularly, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Water is the best choice; avoid alcohol and caffeine.
- Check the weather. You can find forecasts and air-quality reports online. Plan activities and outings so that you minimize exposure to heat and smog.
- Dress for the heat. Choose loose-fitting, lightweight, light-coloured clothing. When going outdoors, wear a wide-brimmed hat. For sun protection, don’t forget to put on sunscreen and wear UV-blocking sunglasses.
- Stay in the shade. Carry an umbrella to create shade if necessary.
- Keep your home cool. Air conditioning and fans can help you feel cooler. Close blinds or curtains to block the sun’s rays. Take cool showers or baths when needed (and avoid saunas and hot tubs). Make meals that don’t require the oven or other hot appliances. If it’s still too hot at home, visit an air-conditioned space in your community (such as a shopping mall, library or community centre).
- Talk to your doctor or pharmacist. Certain medications can increase your risk of heat-related illness. These include drugs used to treat high blood pressure, heart conditions (including anginas and arrhythmias), mental illnesses, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease or seizures.
- Stay in touch. When the weather is really hot, check on seniors you know – friends, family members, neighbours. If you’re a senior, arrange to have someone visit regularly.
Together, we can keep seniors safe from the dangerous effects of excessive heat. If you have elderly loved ones whom you can’t visit as often as you would like, consider home care services that protect their health and well-being.
To learn how Bayshore Home Health helps seniors live independently,