Heat waves have special significance for in-home companions and professional caregivers alike. Heat can pose a unique risk to elderly family members, not only because they are more susceptible to extreme temperatures, but because they often are less aware or vigilant in monitoring their own body’s reaction to it.
The grandmother who always feels a little chill no matter what the weather, may not seem to mind the heat as much as some other people. Still, her body is working just as hard as everybody else’s to maintain a healthy temperature.
In the Southwest, where some areas can see temperatures stay in triple digits for days on end, even the so-called “dry heat” can be deceptive. Because moisture evaporates so quickly, we may not feel as muggy as we might in other climates, but that could prevent us from realizing how much we’re really perspiring.
A few tips for caregiving in extreme heat:
- If you can, inspect your air conditioning equipment before extreme temperatures arrive. Fans may be adequate for some warmer weather, but when there’s an actual emergency, there’s simply no substitute for air conditioning in most seniors’ homes.
- If you don’t have air conditioning, find someplace that does. Make plans to seek shelter at least for the hottest part of the day, which in most places, is from noon until 6:00 p.m. Shopping malls, restaurants and the traditional movie theaters are good refuges if your community doesn’t offer a cooling center.
- Stay hydrated. That means drinking more water and other natural fluids than you think you actually need. And begin drinking water before the heat of the day and definitely before you’re thirsty.
- Stay out of the sun and indoors as much as possible. There’s likely plenty of time for running errands or otherwise having to go outside in the mornings and evenings.
- Avoid physical exertion. When we exercise, we sweat because our bodies need to maintain healthy temperatures. Extreme heat makes this even harder and greatly increases the risk of heat-related illness or injury.
- Know the signs. If you or your loved one is experiencing dizziness, unnatural chills, headache, muscle cramps, nausea, breathing problems or lightheadedness, it may be a sign of a serious condition. Get the person to a cool place as quickly as possible and offer them plenty of fluids while monitoring their condition carefully. Seek medical attention immediately, particularly for people over 65 or young children.
The best way to avoid being caught off-guard by extreme temperatures is to monitor local weather forecasts. News reports about extreme weather can be confusing in any season, with various watches, warnings, advisories, emergencies … the list goes on. For some insight into what the weather forecasters mean, the National Weather Service as an online guide you can reach here.
What are your tips for staying cool in the middle of a heat wave? Join the conversation on Facebook.